This column about Tina Frundt, who founded Courtney's House to shelter and counsel young people who have fallen victim to human trafficking, incorrectly said that Frundt received an award from the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation. She received the Frederick Douglass Award from the Free the Slaves organization. The Frederick Douglass Family Foundation has commended Frundt.
Human trafficking isn't just overseas: It's alive in D.C. and its suburbs.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Her name was "Elizabeth London," she said. And, shivering in a short, white skirt and tottering on huge, acrylic heels too big for her little feet, she was standing on a corner in Northwest Washington, about four blocks from the White House, "waiting for a friend."
She was a child, about 15, I guessed. Her makeup was clumsy and clumpy, her long, blond hair was limp. The detective with me agreed that she was a kid, but she had no I.D., so he couldn't prove it.
He took some notes about her, "a new one," he mumbled, who was probably imported from somewhere far from the city. "They bring them up the Interstate, 95, through the big cities. D.C. is on that circuit," the detective explained to me as we cruised around the District's open-air, prostitution hotspots back in 2002 for a story I was writing.
Human trafficking right here, in the nation's capital, seemed improbable. Women couldn't possibly be "trafficked" in America. That happens in exotic countries, where they are held in bamboo cages and forced to service dozens of clients a day, right?
"Ha. Try Leesburg. Ballston Common Mall. Tysons Corner. Those are all spots" where girls are meeting clients under the watchful eye of their pimps or being recruited into the sex trade with flattery and flashy clothes, Tina Frundt told me this week.
"Yes, it's happening here. Now. Right in our neighborhoods, right where no one would believe it happens," she said.
I thought of "Elizabeth London" when I met Frundt this week.
That frightened girl -- with raccoon-eye liner and too-bright lipstick -- is the face of slavery in America today, Frundt contends.
Frundt was once a slave herself, forced into prostitution in the District when she was 14. She was a rebellious teen who blossomed in the attention showered upon her by a 24-year-old man. When he told her he was going to take her to Cleveland to meet the rest of his family, she was thrilled. But his family turned out to be the three other girls working for him. She had to bring in $500 a night. When she brought in just $50, he beat her in front of the other girls and broke her arm with a baseball bat.
She was locked in a closet, shunted from city to city and monitored constantly. Eventually, she escaped, recovered and is now a champion of the movement to equate American prostitution with contemporary slavery.
The detective I talked to almost a decade ago was certainly onto this. But few called it slavery back then. It was "a network" and "runaways" and "groups of people traveling from city to city."
But over the past several years, detectives in our region began seeing younger prostitutes, girls promised excitement and glamour, lured from small towns and trapped by violence and manipulation. In 2004, the District organized the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force.