Arien Pauls grew up in an abusive home in a small town in Humboldt County, California. She moved to Fresno when she was 17 to finish high school.
She graduated in 2007, and when she turned 18 she decided to go to college.
While in college, Pauls felt far away from home and lonely. That’s when she met a man on MySpace in 2008.
“I met a man who I fell in love in with, or thought I was in love with,” Pauls told Humanity.
The relationship started off innocently. Pauls and her boyfriend would go out on dates, and he would buy her nice clothes and take her to get her nails done.
However, Pauls’ boyfriend had horrible intentions.
When Pauls was 19, he took her to a hotel in Modesto, California.
She had no idea what was going to happen next. He took Pauls to the room and gave her condoms. He told her that another man was going to come in, and that she was to have sex with him after taking his money.
That was Pauls’ first experience in the sex trafficking underworld.
For the next four years, Pauls would be trafficked and forced into prostitution in a variety of different cities and states.
Pauls’ pimp wouldn’t allow her to contact her family, and he took away all of her forms of identification.
She would experience unimaginable horrors over these four years. She was beaten often, raped, and was forced to have a late-term abortion.
It escalated to the point where if Pauls disobeyed her pimp or showed any resistance whatsoever, he would beat her and threaten to kill her family.
“At some point, who I was as a human being was completely broken. I felt worthless. I felt like nobody is going to believe anything I have to say. I’m trapped, I’m stuck, and there’s no way out,” Pauls remembered.
In 2011, the abuse got to a juncture where Pauls had taken enough. She and her pimp were in Las Vegas, and he had refused to give her any cash for condoms and something to drink.
“It wasn’t a whole bunch of money, but for some reason that right there just made me snap,” Pauls said.
She refused to go out, and her pimp pulled her off the couch. He beat her until she passed out.
“While he was beating me I felt like I was going to die. I really, truly believed that that was the end, and it would finally all be over,” Pauls recalled.
When her pimp passed out, she grabbed a suitcase and ran.
After a daring escape, she contacted the Las Vegas police, and the prosecution promised if she testified against her pimp, they would help her return home.
However, she had been arrested in California before, and had missed multiple court dates. As a result, she had warrants out for her arrest in California.
If she returned to the state and encountered a police officer, she would be summarily arrested.
Even though she had gotten away from her pimp, she didn’t feel any better.
“I didn’t feel any different. I was still kind of like, ‘What now? What is my life going to be like now? Where am I supposed to go?'” Pauls explained.
Pauls was too ashamed and afraid to reach out to family for help.
“At that point, I didn’t believe I was a victim of anything. I truly believed that I was just a criminal. I didn’t know what I know now,” Pauls remembered.
Pauls spent the next year in Las Vegas working as a prostitute. She was only 22 years old.
Around Christmas time in 2012 Pauls had reached her limit.
“I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. I had experienced so much, and I just felt like a child,” Pauls recalled.
She called her grandparents, and told them she wanted to come home.
They dipped into their retirement savings to hire an attorney to help Pauls with the warrants out for her arrest in California.
“It was a relief for a small amount of time, but that’s when the real challenge for me began,” she said.
Pauls spent the next three years trying to a find employment, but she struggled.
She was turned down for jobs multiple times because of her criminal record.
“Wait a second, there are convicted drug dealers and murderers who can get jobs. Why can’t I get a job?” Pauls remembered thinking.
It made Pauls feel like society valued a violent criminal more than it valued her.
She became a certified EMT, but was denied work because of her criminal record.
Pauls considered getting back into prostitution, but quickly let that thought go.
“[The] little voice inside of me said don’t. Reach out for help. Reach out for help. Somebody can help you. Somebody can help you,” she remembered.
Pauls began sharing her story, and started helping herself. She went to an association called Breaking the Chains, which is a facility for abused women that offers counseling programs and shelter.
She started thinking about what she had to offer other women.
“I realized that it’s my calling to help other women, and use my voice to get the community to understand that this happens here in our country, this happens here in your backyard. It happens in poor neighborhoods, rich neighborhoods. It happens,” Pauls explained.
Pauls works full-time as the Assistant Catering Manger at Torninos Catering, and is a proud mother.
However, she is driven to spend an enormous amount of time and effort to help other women.
Pauls is now an advocate for survivors of sex trafficking. She volunteers at Breaking the Chains, and runs a support group for survivors.
They discuss healthy living boundaries, finance, budgeting, and any other issues they need help with.
Pauls and Breaking the Chains have partnered with the juvenile court in Fresno, and offer mentorship to youth and help them get ready for court.
She also volunteers at the Central Valley Justice Coalition, and teaches classes on sex trafficking, and a curriculum on preventing the exploitation of adolescent girls.
After Pauls gets her Bachelor’s degree, she plans on becoming an attorney. She wants to fight for other survivors who are being held back because of their criminal record.
“It gives me a feeling of hope for the future,” Pauls explained.