The Trade: The Frundt Lines of Sex Trafficking in DC

WashingtonDC by HumbertoMoreno

Image from Humberto Moreno at Flickr Commons

Tina Frundt was first sexually sold when she was 9 years old in the foster care system. Her foster parents abused her and sold her along with other girls and boys. As she pointed out in her 2012 TED talk, if someone is abusing children every day, why wouldn’t they try to profit from it?

“Would they have morals and say, ‘I’ll sexually abuse them, but I won’t sell them,’?” No.

She was only a child, but she could spot undercover police cars. She could predict the number of police raids that would take place in her neighborhood on any given night. She was surrounded by drug use, and it wasn’t lost on her that users were often unaware of their surroundings.

Tina wanted to be aware of her surroundings, so she didn’t take drugs.

She took it on herself to provide food for the other kids in her circle. Foster parents were provided with about $500 worth of food stamps at the time. Tina learned to hide the food stamps outside the house in a trash bag, so she could actually use them for food. She didn’t like to steal, but she could linger behind restaurants and ask them for leftover food at the end of the night.

When she was 12, she was adopted by a wonderful family, and everything seemed like it would change. But, as she points out, abuse is a cycle. It doesn’t just stop.

When she was 13, she met a man who was fifteen years older than her. She thought he was just amazing. They really seemed to have a connection. He told her that he had grown up in the foster care system, too.

Later on she realized he hadn’t. He had just found her vulnerable point, and knew right where to press.

She met him at a corner store. She says that busy areas, such as malls, airports, parks, youth centers, and sports arenas, are popular places for pimps to pick out their targets—which are mostly girls from ages 12 to 14. This is one point that Tina especially likes to press to parents: teens are mostly targeted and trafficked at malls, and similar areas. It happens to all races, and affluent teens aren’t immune.

Back to her story. She met this guy, and for six months everything seemed okay. She grew closer to him—he even told her how important school was, and gave her a ride when she was running late. She got to school safely, and another link was forged in the chain of trust he was winding around her.

You know where this story is going.

She had a fight with her parents when she was 14. She wanted to stay up past 10:00, and they weren’t okay with that. So she called this guy, and he told her to meet him in 15 minutes, and not to bring anything. She just thought she’d run out and make her parents upset, and then she’d get home and they’d let her stay up late.

She didn’t think she was going to be taken out of Illinois, but he took her to Ohio. He had told her about a big, beautiful house he had there—and the house was real. He was a trafficker, so he had money. (Trafficking is one of the fastest-growing, most profitable criminal industries in the US, along with drugs and arms dealing.) But at the house, Tina became one of five girls there who were being prepared for prostitution.

Her trafficker drank a lot, and he made the girls drink, too. But Tina—who wanted her wits intact—was clever. She put a little alcohol in her mouth, and when her pimp and the other girls weren’t looking, she’d pour a little bit in their cups from her own.

She tried a lot of different things to escape. None of them worked. Most resulted in beatings. She did manage to get away from him when she was 15—but only as the result of a police intervention that landed her in juvenile detention, charged with prostitution.

“He was not [charged],” she said in her TED talk. “Nothing ever happened to him.”

Tina was then faced with the reality that there were no services for people like her. She had nowhere to go to get reintegrated into society as a normal teen.

A lot of girls arrested for prostitution are actually trafficking victims, but in many cases there’s no place for judges to put them but prison or detention centers. So that’s where they wind up, even though they’re victims.

So Tina, ever the resourceful provider, eventually started her own service. Courtney’s House, based in Washington DC (which the FBI has named as one of the 14 major trafficking centers in the US), is a non-profit where “every survivor of sex trafficking can receive survivor-focused, trauma-informed, holistic services. Staff survivors help these youth find and recover their own voices, thus enabling them to pass on their own keys to success.”

Courtney’s House has helped over 500 sex slaves find freedom. In 2010, Tina Frundt was honored with the Frederick Douglass Award, which is given to people who have survived slavery themselves and are now helping others to freedom.


L. Marrick is a fiction writer and freelance copywriter. 50% of proceeds from her upcoming book Working Girl, a memoir of her time working for a professional escort, go to sex trafficking non-profits. She waxes poetic about swords and the Renaissance Faire at her author blog. She looks all professional-like at her copywriting site. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @LMarrick.

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