Their faces are all too frequently Black and Brown. They are seemingly sheltered debutantes from Northwest Washington D.C.; troubled runaway teens from Laurel, Md; young Latinx women from Northern Virginia and vulnerable transgender youth from Southeast D.C. They are the faces of modern-day slavery and human trafficking epidemic.
The International Labour Organization estimates that there are more than 20.9 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. More than half of all victims are women and girls, with 26 percent of all cases being children. Locally, 2,563 people have been reported missing in the District in 2017 alone, according to statistics released by the Metropolitan Police Department on Sept. 29. Of these, 1,637 were children, some who may be victims of human trafficking rings.
Sharece Crawford, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 8, said she works with nonprofit organizations that have seen an upswing in the number of human trafficking cases during a radio interview with American University’s radio station, WAMU 88.5.
“Imagine what’s not being reported,” said Crawford, who issued a resolution letter to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in March advocating for a better Amber Alert system and reporting for critically missing children.
The recent conviction of a Prince George’s County man hurled domestic trafficking back to the forefront of local news. On Sept. 28, Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks announced Joshua Isaiah Jones, 27, of Greenbelt, Md., had been convicted of recruiting multiple women and a juvenile to participate in his “multi-jurisdictional human trafficking criminal enterprise.” The release did not specify how many women were involved in the ring.
Working alongside Jones were Rashid Marwan Mosby, 43, of Windsor Mill and Terra Marie Perry, 37, of Baltimore. Mosby and Perry pleaded guilty to human trafficking charges, according to a release from Frosh’s office. They will be sentenced Nov. 8. The three worked in tandem between 2013-2015 to lure women with promises of modeling and escort jobs under an agency called Pink Pleasure Entertainment. The release also said the trio posted more than 100 advertisements with explicit photos to solicit customers for sexual encounters.
Frosh said instances like the “Pink Pleasure Entertainment” guise are far too frequent in Maryland.
“These individuals brutalized young women for profit,” Frosh said. “Trafficking of women for prostitution is a problem worldwide and in our own back yards. Working with law enforcement in multiple agencies, we were able to lock these individuals up and prevent them from preying on more young women.”
Both Prince George’s County and the District have task forces dedicated to monitoring and convicting human traffickers, while providing assistance programs to survivors. According to the county’s Human Trafficking Task Force Web site, there were 241 calls to Child Protective Services about human trafficking of minors and county police arrested 33 adults for human trafficking offenses. Sex trafficking is the most common.
Michael Lyles is the executive director of the Prince George’s County Human Relations Commission and chairman of the county’s human trafficking task force. He told the AFRO there have been 281 human trafficking cases reported this year through June and the average victim is between 18-19. He said the youngest victim found in 2017 was 14, although he has seen children as young as 11 entangled in trafficking situations.
The number of victims this year have already surpassed the total number of cases uncovered in 2016. While Black women are involved in the majority of cases, Lyles said there has been an increase in the number of White, Latinx and Asian victims as well.
Tina Frundt knows all too well the havoc vulnerable children face once they become ensnared in human trafficking rings. At 14, a 24-year-old man forced Frundt into a life of prostitution. Frundt said she was a defiant teenager looking to establish her own identity and the older man’s attentive ear and subtle manipulation led her from her home in Chicago, Ill., to 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,” Frundt said in a essay published in To Plead Our Own Cause: Personal Stories By Today’s Slaves.”
“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.”
Frundt now uses her harrowing past to help. She is the executive director and founder of Courtney’s House, an organization that searches Washington, D.C. streets for children in brothels, strip clubs, private homes and hotels; trains community officials about the dangers and signs of domestic trafficking and provides intensive counseling for survivors. In December 2015, former President Barack Obama named Frundt to the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking for her work with Courtney’s House.
There are a fleet of organizations who, like Courtney’s House, work to convict human traffickers and support survivors of the heinous crime. FAIR Girls, Polaris Project, Break the Chain Campaign, Innocents at Risk and 20 other non-governmental organizations are listed on the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force’s web site.
“So often people have misconceptions about who survivors are. They think it’s only sex trafficking; that it only affects women, and that it doesn’t happen here, to U.S. citizens. That’s not true. There are all types of survivors,” Frundt said. “There are farm workers and other laborers. There are boys and girls and transgender youth. We need more effective training because we can’t identify survivors if we have these misconceptions and don’t know what we’re looking for.”