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Chloe Ricard.
Chloe Ricard.(family photo)

It is hard to make sense of the death of Chloe Ricard, the 13-year-old Amesbury girl who died in May after being dropped off unconscious at Lawrence General Hospital. Carlos Rivera has been accused of giving her cocaine and sexually assaulting her.

A month before her death, Chloe came to My Life My Choice, which works to end child sex trafficking. Her mentor was struck by Chloe’s intelligence and insight. She loved Chloe’s sense of humor and how much she loved her family. But she also remembers the way Chloe’s eyes told a story — the heaviness there. She was afraid for Chloe’s safety.

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Chloe had been referred to My Life My Choice because her mother and others in her life were worried about her. They were afraid she was being exploited, and she was. Her mentor had also been exploited as a teenager, and she knew how challenging the path to safety was. As more information has come out about the pain that Chloe was in, and how she was sexually exploited, we asked her mother if we could come forward to honor Chloe.

The mistakes we make as 13-year-olds are not supposed to be the end of our lives. We are supposed to learn things and have another shot. This isn’t about making bad choices. When sex is exchanged for anything of value to a child — money, food, drugs — this is sexual exploitation, an egregious form of child abuse. Sexual exploitation is about the absence of choice. It is when someone of power preys on someone vulnerable. That vulnerability can take many forms. It is most frequently the pain of having a childhood of abuse or neglect and lacking a stable home base in which to feel loved, of having grown up in the care of the child welfare system. Over half of the young people we cared for last year were exploited before age 15. And 85 percent were in the care of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.

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But vulnerability can take other forms as well. Sometimes someone’s mental health crumbles in the face of relentless grief, the kind of grief that Chloe experienced when she lost her father. It can be the lure and the trap of drugs that make that grief go away and then tether a person in what feels like an impossible grip. And while we pray and hope that the unconditional love of a mother like Chloe’s will be able to protect a child, it doesn’t always work. At My Life My Choice, we see girls like Chloe who are hurting and being taken advantage of everyday.

The men who buy sex — to be clear, the men who rape children — wield their privilege, power, and access to things that children want or need. It is their demand that fuels this industry. It is their demand that shatters lives.

At My Life My Choice, we wish we had had more time to help Chloe. She left an imprint on our hearts. We ask that you stand with us, together in her memory, to say that not one more child should be exploited in this way, not one more child should be lost in this way. There is no such thing as other people’s children.

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Lisa Goldblatt Grace is cofounder and director of My Life My Choice.