Sex trafficking survivor Nene Pegues-Santos. (Image: Hawaii News Now)
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
When covering stories about sexual assault or sex trafficking survivors, most news outlets – including Hawaii News Now – protects the identity of those individuals.
On Wednesday, 22-year-old Nene Pegues-Santos refused to let us do that. She hopes coming out of the shadows to tell her story will prevent what happened to her from happening to others in the future.
"He took a lot from me. He took my strength, my well being, my self esteem, my confidence. He took my reason for life away," Nene Pegues-Santos.
When she was just 16, Pegues-Santos says she met the man who would later become her pimp at a birthday party. That same night, she says he raped her.
That was in 2011. For four months afterward, the teen says she was held captive with two other girls at the Oasis Townhomes in Waipahu.
Pegues-Santos says the man told her if she left, he would kill her family.
"I was raped awake, I was raped for lunch, and I was raped to sleep," Pegues-Santos said. "And I was beaten all day."
Pegues- Santos said she was sold online and forced to walk the streets of Waikiki. It wasn't until an officer recognized her as a missing child that she was able escape and be reunited with her family.
Almost immediately, she began working with the FBI and HPD.
"When this first happened, when I talked to HPD, I was calling them at least once a week. 'Got an update? Got an update?' she said. "Then it got to the point where they stopped answering their phone calls."
It was six years, she says, before she heard from the Honolulu Prosecutor's office. If she was still willing to testify, they were ready to take the case to court.
This week, things changed.
Pegues-Santos says she was blindsided by news that the statute of limitations had run out for the most serious charge. Prosecutors also told her they felt the kidnapping charge would be too hard to prove.
"Then it's 'Well, we only got two counts of rape,' when I was raped at least three times a day. As a child," she said. "No baby should ever have to go through that."
Pegues-Santos says the grand jury wasn't even told about the worst abuse. In the end, jurors said there wasn't enough evidence for any charges.
"Instead of holding law enforcement accountable for the length of time it took to go to court, they blamed Nene. And it wasn't her fault," said Kathryn Xian, Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery. "She did everything right. She did everything immediately. She complied with law enforcement from the very start."