Bought & Sold, by Megan Stephens

Eight stars

When I made the decision to read this book by Megan Stephens, I knew that I would not be heading into a story of hope and enlightenment, but of something depraved and horrific. Stephens recounts how a single trip to Greece with her mother changed everything and continues to haunt her years later. In the early portion of the book, the reader discovers that Megan lived a life of broken families and parents whose main interest in life was drink and booze-fuelled fights with one another. After the breakdown of the family unit, Megan and her sister turned to acts of petty crime to fill their days. Megan became the problem child, though had yet to get involved in anything too salacious. When Megan and her mom took a trip to Greece, their eyes opened to the possibilities before them. Megan’s mom met a lovely gentleman and Megan seemed to attract the attention of a few Albanian men, specifically Jak. Spending as much time with him as she could, Megan soon fostered a strong affinity for Jak, who appeared to love her as much as she did him. After extending their trip once, Megan’s mom had to face reality and prepared to see them go back home. However, Megan’s attachment to Jak was complete and she turned away to start a life with the man she loved, at the ripe age of fourteen. From there, Jak helped Megan with the idea of working, though this would not be the work that any 14 year-old might expect. Jak asked her to help him raise some money for his family by turning to sex, but only for a time. Megan would work the streets, always monitored by Jak and, blindly, had her eye on the prize the entire time. She hoped that she could get out of the work and build a life with Jak. However, as the countless number of men sought to fulfil grotesque fantasies with her, Megan soon slipped into an abyss from which there was no escape. Jak eventually sent her off to work for another man, who had Megan working in bordellos. This is where she would average eighty to one hundred quickie sessions a night, pulling in thousands of euros for the men who handled her. With threats of death directed towards Megan and her family, there was no escape. Any straying from the path could be met with a slap, a beating, or even worse. Sold and bandied around Athens, Megan soon was in deeper than she could have imagined and she had no idea how to free herself without endangering her mother. Even when she was arrested, her fear of the man who ‘owned’ her left Megan helpless and turning back to the life. With a mother who was being fed lies about her ‘waitressing’ career, Megan had no one to help her and a life with no end in sight. How could she find hope in a world where sex and abuse were not hourly visitors? This is the story of a teenage girl’s six years in a human trafficking ring where death was the only assurance of safety. While it is hard to recommend a book of this nature, I would strongly support anyone who wants to pop their naive bubble of daily life to try this piece, if only for its sobering aspect.

As I said before, this was not expected to be a light and enjoyable read. I entered this reading knowing that full well and I suppose it is why I knew the piece would work well as an ‘Awkward Read’ in my reading challenge. The story reads fairly well, with the narrative flowing easily and the reader able to understand some of the early depravities that Megan faced. While there is a great deal of implied horror, Megan Stephens does not subject the reader to extensive and graphic depiction of what happened to her, which leaves me both thankful and shortchanged. I know it is a little controversial to say that, as an outsider, but I almost wonder if the impact might have been stronger if the reader could see some of the detailed horrors and have that stomach churning moment. That being said, I did see the story has somewhat hokey at times and wondered (as Megan did in the retelling) how these choices could have been made and the lifelines ignored. I had to remind myself that this was a fourteen year-old who was drunk on love making these choices with the neon lights flashing ‘bad idea’, ‘stupid girl’, and ‘what the hell, Megan!?!’. That being said, fear can surely fuel the willingness to stay on the path before you, if only to ensure you live another day. I will say that while I understand human trafficking is a constant issue and happens all over the place, Megan’s story did not play out as I might have predicted. She was not constantly strung out on drugs or sent to some backwater country and shackled to the wall between shifts. She lived in a hotel, was transported to and from work, and remained sober for the most part. It did leave me wondering how much human trafficking might be going on around me (not to sound paranoid) and if there are rings operating in the communities I visit for work on a daily basis. The story was quite sobering and offered some interesting insights, as well as fuelling a sickening feeling that anyone could treat another human being with such disregard. The book can be read swiftly, though its fourteen chapters will surely weigh heavily on the minds and hearts of those who take the time to soak it all in. Horrible topic, but truly informative.

Kudos, Madam Stephens, for this interesting read. Words cannot express how sorry I am to have read the horrors you endured in your teen years, but you’ve synthesised things quite well and left me wondering about the larger world of human and sex trafficking, especially in the West.

This book satisfies Topic #2: Awkward Attempt, in the Equinox #3 portion of the A Book for All Seasons book challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: