“One story in particular that really affected all of us involved a young woman in in Florida,” Steven Vasquez Jr. tells me. I’m talking to him about the new documentary film, Lost in America. The film chronicles the stories of 30 homeless youth across the country. Vasquez was a producer and Director of Photography on the project.
“Her name is Harley,” Lost in America‘s director, Rotimi Rainwater, continues. “She was one day off the street. So I told Harley, ‘Don’t worry, I’m gonna take it easy on you. I’m not asking you to get deep into your story,’ And she went, ‘Okay.’ And I was like, ‘Tell me your name and how you were on the streets.’ She got through four words: ‘My name is Harley.’ And then she completely lost it. It wasn’t just tears. She emotionally broke down to the point where she just couldn’t get words out.”
When she was finally able to speak again, Harley told a harrowing tale. As a very young child, Harley and her sister had been forced into child pornography by their parents. It was the kind of story that Rainwater and Vasquez would soon hear from youth all around the country, but at this point, their journey had only just started. They were shocked. In Harley’s case, her path to being a homeless teen started with what should have been her salvation, escaping from her monstrous parents. Harley and her sister were able to sneak a DVD of their abuse to an uncle. He turned her parents into the police. And that should have been the start to a better life. Harley’s parents were put into a federal penitentiary, and she and her sister had ‘escaped.’ But, unfortunately, the horror and sexual exploitation didn’t end for Harley there. The girls became lost in the midst of a bad system. And with no help, support, or anyone to help them, became homeless.
“She’d escaped, but she didn’t really know what to do or where to go,” Vasquez [who also freelances at Uproxx] says. “So she turned to what she knew. She was working.”
Prostitution was the only way Harley felt she could support herself. So the youth found shady men to take her in and sold herself on the street. Vasquez and Rainwater expected the kids they found to have horrible stories, but Harley’s bleak history left the entire crew shaken. The gravity of what they were undertaking was sinking in.
“The true emotional impact really hit us, the vulnerability that these youth have,” Rainwater says. “It was the second day of shooting and people were almost getting sick in the van.”