As thousands gathered last week for the Republican National Convention and will this week for the Democratic National Convention, another major story goes largely unreported right outside the convention doors. As is the case with other large events, sex trafficking will spike in the convention cities and local efforts to fight the problem may partially be in vain.Nonprofit groups in Tampa, Florida and Charlotte, North Carolina, have been working closely with law enforcement to prepare for young women and children who will be brought into their cities to be exploited. Sex Trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise in the world, a $32 billion industry according to the U.S. State Department. The United States makes up $9.5 billion of the total, with an estimated 250,000 children at risk for trafficking. The average age of girls lured into the industry is 12 and how they become involved is a huge detail most often overlooked or misunderstood. Tina Frundt was 14 when she was forced into prostitution.
Like many teens at that age, finding my own identity and defying my parents were top on my list. So when a man came into my life and showered me with attention and listened to me when I complained about my parents, I did not think twice that he was ten years my senior. After all, he said I was mature for my age and told me I understood him better than anyone his own age. Little did I know, he was laying down the seeds of manipulation. It did not matter what my parents said, to me they did not understand me and he was the only one that “got me”. After six months, I thought I loved him, at least that is what he told me, so I did what I thought my heart was telling me and ran away to be with him. We ended up in Cleveland, Ohio. He told me we were going to meet the rest of the family.I had no idea the “family” meant myself and three other girls. After I was introduced to the “family,” I was told what my role would be. I would go out to “work” that night and bring him back the money. How else would we build our dream home? He assured me he would always love me no matter what, but he needed to know how much I loved him by making sure I would do anything for him.Later that evening, his friends came by the motel. At first, he told me to have sex with someone. I did not want to so his friends raped me. Afterwards, he said “that wouldn’t have happened if I would have just listened to him at first.” I blamed myself instead of being angry at him for being raped. I was angry at myself for not listening to him in the first place. After that, he picked my clothes out, told me what to wear, what to say, how to walk, what to say to “Johns” and how much money I was to bring back to him. He then forced me to go out into the streets.When I first went out into the streets, when I met my first John, I felt like this was something I did not want to do. I walked around the streets back and forth for hours. Finally, I got into a car because we were always being watched and I knew I had to get into a car sooner or later. Our quota was $500 and I had only made $50 that night to give back to the pimp. As a result, he beat me in front of the other girls to make an example out of me and then he made me go back out until I had made the money. This is the same man that took me out to eat, listened to me when I wanted to complain about my parents, gave me words of advice. I was now seeing a side of him that I never saw before; a brutal side where he repeatedly hit me in front of the other girls to teach us all a lesson.Not only was I shocked, I was scared. What would happen to me if I did try to leave and who would believe me if I told them what was going on? I worked from 6 until 10 p.m. the next night without eating or sleeping. I came back with the $500, but in his mind I still had not learned my lesson. He sent me back outside until 5 a.m. the next morning. After the second day, he finally bought me something to eat, but as a punishment to learn never to defy him again, he locked me in the closet. Since that night, I was locked in the closet on numerous occasions and had my finger broken which never set right. None of us were ever allowed to see a doctor so we endured our pain by pushing it deep down inside and trying to forget it ever happened.I can’t count the number of times people have asked me “why didn’t you just leave?” “Couldn’t you escape?” To that, I simply say “do you ask a child that is kidnapped why they didn’t try to leave?” No, we automatically say they are a victim; it wasn’t their fault. Now I know it was not my fault that a pimp manipulated a child. Under federal law, a child under 18 years who is commercially sexually abused is a victim of trafficking. However under local law a child is charged with child prostitution.The pimps who are trafficking young women and girls on the street have a great marketing tool: the media. You can turn on the TV now and see pimps glamorized in TV shows, music videos, and movies. Young people use “pimp” in everyday conversation: “my ride is pimped out,” “your clothes are pimping.” They do not understand the reality behind the term.Pimps prey on young women and girls by finding their weakness and then exploiting it. It is easier to manipulate children, and by the time children become adults, they are broken down and dependent on a pimp. After the pimp gets into your mind, it’s easy for him to maintain control, much like a domestic abuser. From then now on you have to call him “daddy” and he will punish you if he feels like you have stepped out of line. You are required to bring him $500-$2,000 every night. You are not a woman, you are always a “bitch” or a “ho” and are reminded of that daily. You are part of his “stable.” If you do not want to follow the rules, then he may sell you at anytime to another pimp.
Tampa had been expecting a 50% increase in sex trafficking during the Republican National Convention. For their part, Tampa police began arresting women, charged with attempting to commit prostitution, a couple weeks before the convention in an operation known as, “Keep It Clean.” Along with federal and state officers, local police used the site backpage.com to begin the process of locating exploited women and children, finding at least eight pages of listings well before the convention was set to start. Nonprofits, such as The Rachael Project, joined forces as well and held a training session on how to spot signs of human trafficking with the focus being on the coming convention.Charlotte, one of the top ten locations for sex trafficking in the U.S., held a conference August 21st attended by law enforcement, advocates and others to prepare for the Democratic National Convention. They also held a rally called, “Restore Freedom,” to help raise awareness in the community and further help the public understand what they can do to be on the look out and respond to potential sex trafficking situations. N.C. Stop Human Trafficking, one of the nonprofits involved, will be calling the women in the backpage.com listings to give them information on how they can receive help.Antonia “Neet” Childs, of Neet’s Sweets in Charlotte, helps victims of sex trafficking once they’ve gotten out. Her organization provides them with the means and skills to start a new life, in part by employing them while they are in the process of navigating their new independence. Most of all, though, Neet offers them hope – she was once a victim of trafficking as well and seeing that she has made it out successfully has been inspiring to the women she’s helped, according to Neet. Her company was recently employed by the wife of John McCain, as word of her efforts had begun to spread nationally.Organizations like Neet’s achieve long term results that, as was recently revealed by Brandon Darby of Breitbart News, the government is negligent in tackling. Having formerly worked with the FBI, Darby reached out to his contacts within the government when he helped to create “Citizen Patriot Response,” a nonprofit dedicated to helping individuals and communities in need. What he found was across the board disinterest in the Department of Justice to even deal with the issue of sex trafficking. According to Darby, at least one FBI agent was guilty of changing forms in cases where sex trafficking was involved so that victims were brushed to the side while they were dealing with other aspects of the case.Back in Tampa, it’s unknown how many women and girls were arrested for sex trafficking. Also unknown is how many men will be prosecuted for their crimes against the victims of trafficking. It is now Charlotte’s turn to prove they are dedicated to helping change the tragedy of modern day slavery which has found its way into the land of the free.Follow @BreeanneHowe