“I was born into a world of dysfunction,” Jerome explains, “my mother Marie was an alcoholic, pregnant at seventeen and her life was held firmly in the grip of chaos.” When Jerome was only five, his mother “brought home” a man named Neale. First, all seemed to be going well, but then he started molesting Jerome. Before long, Neale was using him for child pornography and then sexually trafficking Jerome through the paedophile ring that he belonged to.
“The first time, I was given drugs and alcohol, handcuffed and raped for six hours by doctors, lawyers, accountants and anyone who would pay to ravage my innocence,” Jerome explains.
At the age of twelve, after years of abuse, Jerome felt his life had become “an abyss of worthlessness and pain” and he tried to take his own life.
But he woke up in a hospital emergency room and heard a nurse who, having seen the bruises all over his body, was arguing with the doctors that he was a victim of abuse and needed immediate help. Thanks to the courage and persistence of that nurse, Jerome was finally freed from his ordeal.
Today, Jerome is an advocate and survivor leader and heads the “Trafficking in America Task Force” which works together with local, state, and congressional lawmakers and trains law enforcement, medical and mental health professionals to help bring an end to human trafficking.
Over the years he has worked with members of congress on draft legislation that both provides for the needs of victims of human trafficking and child exploitation and mandates harsher penalties for those who traffic and exploit human beings.
He firmly believes that survivors also need to be actively involved in the creation of programmes that educate children through the school system about the dangers of human trafficking and sexual predators.
“My insights as a male victim have helped shape policies that begin to acknowledge males as victims and tailor services to their specific needs.” States, organizations, and the international community should also consult survivors in creating legislation that closes any loopholes that human traffickers exploit, he says.
Jerome stresses that ensuring the safety of victims and survivors and creating standards for engaging them in the fight against human trafficking must come first. They have to be respected and have their dignity restored. Jerome says this can only be done by “believing their stories and reaffirming their worth as human beings”. He lost friends to suicide, he says, because “they desperately wanted acknowledgement of their abuse by their families but were never listened to”.