Her mother bought her tight clothes to wear and put makeup on her, but then started to seem distant and jealous. She had a man living in New Jersey whom she would visit, leaving Lucilia with her 17-year-old half-brother, whom Lucilia also hadn’t seen since she was a baby. According to Lucilia, he started touching her, and when she told him to stop, he said she’d better not tell their mother or he’d just do more. This time she kept the abuse to herself, telling nobody, for fear of being punished. “I was still a virgin when I came to my mother’s house, and he ended up taking my virginity, like forced it out of me,” she says. The rapes and threats escalated, so she ran away from home.
As she walked down the street, wondering where to go, a couple of guys driving by slowed down and asked if she wanted a lift. They took her to an apartment and told her they could give her food and take care of her, but she had to give something in return. “They used to have sex with me, and I used to cry, and they’d be like, ‘Shut up,’” she says. They thought it was entertaining to have a 12-year-old drink and smoke weed with them. She was there for a couple of months, until one day the men found a missing-child flyer with her photo on it. That same day, she was given a cup of liquor that made her feel sick after she drank it. She was delivered back to her mother in an incoherent state and then hospitalized. The doctors found ecstasy and cocaine in her system. No charges were filed.
Lucilia turned 13 and started at a new school that fall. One day, her mother confronted her and said she’d heard that she was “being nasty” with a boy. When Lucilia denied that she had done anything but hug him, her mother punched her in the mouth. The next day, with a split lip, she ran away again, this time to the ice-skating rink in Prospect Park. The cops found her at McDonald’s; when she screamed that she didn’t want to go back to her mother and banged her head on the ground, they took her to the Kings County Hospital psych ward. She was released to a city-run group home in Manhattan, where she says she was threatened with a curling iron by a worker. When she said she wanted to leave, they unlocked the door for her.
She got on the train to Brooklyn, met some guys, and left with them. They took her to a party and then brought her to an apartment, where one of the guys held her down on the bed while she was gang-raped by his friends, one after another, until she was injured and bleeding. The last guy who came in the room did a double take and asked how old she was. He said he wouldn’t let any of the other men hurt her if she wanted to leave with him. He took her to his apartment, washed and cleaned her wounds, and didn’t ask anything of her, but she got the idea that he would be her boyfriend. A week later, however, he told her that he had to go upstate because of a death in his family. He would leave her with his cousin and come right back for her. His cousin’s name was Romeo.
Romeo had five other girls living in his house, a small bungalow facing a park on Guy R. Brewer Boulevard in South Jamaica. He told Lucilia that he would take care of her, but how would she pay him back? He had sex with her, and the next night took her to the “track” on Rockaway Boulevard, where she turned her first trick. Romeo gave her the name Paradise—all the girls had street names—and started telling her all about himself and how his business worked. When she said it was stupid to tell her all that information, he hit her so hard she fell to the floor. Before his cousin came back to pick her up, Romeo told her, “You’re not going nowhere. You stayin’ here with me. I will beat the shit out of you in front of him, and then I will beat him up in front of you.” So when his cousin got there, Lucilia said she would stay with Romeo.
That winter, Romeo took Lucilia to the track, to bachelor parties, and to clubs—including Club Kalua, which would be the scene of the Sean Bell shooting almost three years later—where she drank to get up her nerve to dance nude on a platform and have sex with customers in VIP rooms. Soon, she was the “bottom bitch” of the house, the one making the most money. Romeo taught her the rules of the Game: When a girl is on the street and she sees a pimp on the sidewalk, she has to get off the sidewalk, into the street, and not make eye contact with him or talk to him. Otherwise, she is “out of pocket” and has “caught a charge”—that pimp has a claim on her and either her own pimp has to pay a fine or else she is now the property of the new pimp. She can also be put under “pimp-arrest,” when a group of pimps surround a girl on the sidewalk and she has to squat, put her head down, and not speak or make eye contact until her own pimp comes to get her. The degradation and the threats induced a kind of Stockholm syndrome. “People always ask, ‘Why don’t they just leave?’” says Kim McLaurin, a supervising attorney at Legal Aid’s Juvenile Rights division in Queens. “But it’s the same thing with those kids in Missouri—people said, ‘He’s out there riding his bike on the street. Why doesn’t he just ride away?’”