What does the face of a pimp look like? Is he the kind of man who operates out of a dilapidated warehouse or has his girls on the street corners of that part of town—someone who only shows himself when darkness crawls in?
For Antonia “Neet” Childs, that face belonged to a man that could easily be a work colleague or fraternity brother from your college days. She was a victim of the sex trafficking trade. With a daily revenue of 87 million dollars, this industry sees between 200,000 to 300,000 teens trafficked within the U.S. every year. Most of them are 12 to 14-years-old. Childs was 16.
The now 27-year-old, along with her three siblings and mother, had relocated to North Carolina from Buffalo, NY, a transition that she describes as anything but smooth.
“It was a new environment. You don’t know anybody and I didn’t have any friends. Around those teenage years you’re looking for friends and for people to accept you.”
Her mom struggled to provide for the family, working hard to be both a mother and father. Childs explained she shared the responsibility of supporting her brother and sisters and had to become a provider at an early age.
“I always carry this habit of having to help everybody,” she says. “I had seen my mother struggle and I didn’t want that for her. I wanted to do everything in my power to help.”
Childs got an after-school job and it was here that she met a “friend,” a 38-year-old man who would come by every day to spend time with her. The work visits eventually turned into car rides home, which was a welcomed help because there was no nearby public transportation.
Over a 5-month courtship, he would ask about her family life, if she was doing okay, or if there was anything she needed. Childs opened up about her mom’s struggle to support the family and how she was working to help her pay the bills and buy food.
“He would give me $100 bills at a time. As a teenager…a hundred dollars is a lot of money. So he would give that to me and I would take it home.”
Childs believed that she was doing something good, being able to help her mom with the additional money. However, the reality was something much darker. The man was pulling her into a web of dependency, making her feel that she had to do things for him because he was helping her.
Not only did I make him money, but it was a lifestyle that I had based MY life off of. By the time I caught myself I didn’t see a way out – so much money was in my possession, I could not go back to a ‘job.
He began to exploit Childs, forcing her to sell her body for money. “I trusted him as a friend. I didn’t look at him like a pimp,” she stated. “My exploiter was a graduate of a well-known college in North Carolina, he was in a fraternity. He was a business man.”
There was a group of 70 other women, many ages 15-16, that he marketed to a network of prominent Charlotte men: police officers, lawyers, judges, businessmen.
“Not only did I make him money, but it was a lifestyle that I had based MY life off of,” she stated. “By the time I caught myself, I didn’t see a way out— so much money was in my possession, I could not go back to a ‘job.’”
She started recruiting other girls to the trade, but it wasn’t until a stranger, now a close friend and business partner, pushed her to take a chance on her dreams, on herself.
“I really gave up on life when I saw the type of clientele that was involved in sex trafficking. It broke my reality and I accepted that was the way life was.”
It had been Childs’ childhood ambition to own a bakery and after some prompting, her resolve was re-ignited. “Neet’s Sweets” began as a small operation out of her house. In the beginning, she walked the line between her old life and new. “I was making cakes for birthday parties and clients would call me to come be with them.”
She made the decision to fully leave her old lifestyle when one of the young girls in her cake decorating class stopped coming. The girl was being trafficked and her pimp had her on meth. She was in the 5th grade.
“I didn’t say anything and I didn’t see her again,” said Childs. “From that point I promised myself that I wouldn’t let another young woman slip through my fingers, knowing that this happened to me at 16-years-old.”
“I started making my cakes a conversation piece [around the issue of trafficking] and it just went from there.”
Neet’s Sweets offers survivors of the sex trade a place to heal, grow, and rehabilitate, as Childs’ “Market Your Mind, Not Your Body” movement works to raise awareness, provide a safe place and the tools for victims of trafficking to begin new lives. To date, over 30 women are benefiting from