Sex trafficking survivors help police, prosecutors better understand child victims
It starts as a message on Instagram or Snapchat and evolves into an online then physical friendship. Eventually, it leads to the child being coerced into selling sex.
That's how survivor Tina Frundt described the typical circumstances in which children are trafficked.
At age 13, she was sexually exploited for profit by a pimp who originally pretended to be her friend.
She escaped and now uses her experience to train law enforcement, school officials and community leaders across the country what to look for when building cases. It starts with building trust, she says.
"If you don't say the right words, it's very difficult to talk to police because you were told bad things about them. So that's one, and then understanding trafficking like on the ground, and understanding the youth in the sites like Instagram and things that the youth are actually being sold on," Frundt said.
She partnered with non-profit "Empower Hawaii" and county prosecutors to host workshops with social workers and state agencies on Oahu, Hawaii Island, Maui and Kauai, as part of the 4th annual "Defend the Family" conference on Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation.
They discussed law enforcement techniques and resources for child victims and their families to help overcome trauma.
The challenge according to advocates, stigma and shame keeping survivors silent, allowing traffickers to victimize others.
"That's why we've been working with the police to talk about relationship building, different questions to ask so that they will want to build the case. Because right now when they're coming on a situation, they don't think there's a victim with anything inside of it. They think it's all their fault. So that's going to take a moment. So you can't just push for a case," Frundt says.
While putting traffickers behind bars is a priority, advocates say healing is just as important and requires the community to get involved in reaching out to vulnerable youth.
"There is a organized system of response," said Veronica Lamb, victim specialist for Susannah Wesley Community Center. "It can come around them that can support them. They're not the only ones. There's lots of others, unfortunately, that have been through this. And there is hope and there is recovery for them."
The state Department of Human Services and several nonprofit organizations offer free resources such as support groups, peer counseling and medical doctors.
Frundt founded a youth drop-in center called Courtney's House in Washington DC and is working with local groups to create a similar center in Hawaii.
If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking, call the hotline at 888-398-1188.