— The News-Press (@TheNewsPress) May 24, 2016
The 15-year-old girl had only been a student at South Fort Myers High School in Fort Myers, Fla., for two weeks when she went looking for her new crush in the boys’ bathroom.
She’d spent the prior two years in and out of treatment facilities, her mother told NBC2, learning to cope with the horrors of the sex slave industry into which she had been trafficked at age 13.
So when she tracked down her crush after school last week and he asked her for sex, her mother said through a victims’ advocate, the young teen agreed.
But then word got out, and someone started filming, and over the next hour as many as 25 male students were shown on school surveillance footage passing through the bathroom, the News-Press reported. Multiple boys had sex with the girl, she later told authorities, during a time period after school when students involved in extracurricular activities participate in a study hall. Sixteen students were disciplined by the Lee County school district, the newspaper reported.
Though the sex was described as consensual, according to the involved parties, the girl was not legally old enough to give consent. And because of her troubled background, the teen’s mother and advocates have said this behavior, called promiscuous by many outraged community members, is actually quite common among sex-trafficking survivors.
“She was not equipped to make a stable, rational decision in that situation,” Megan Estrem, the founder of an advocacy group for sex-trafficking victims called Be the Light, told NBC2 in an interview on behalf of the girl’s mother, who did not want to be on camera.
Estrem told the TV station that the 15-year-old did not have sex with all 25 male students who passed through the bathroom and called the incident “more of a spectator sport.” Her concern, and that of the girl’s mother, is that she is being judged and shamed for behavior that has been ingrained in her for years.
“She has been in an environment where she has been told to behave a certain way,” Estrem told NBC2. “And there were severe consequences if she didn’t.”
School officials were first alerted to the bathroom sexual activity on May 18, the day after it happened, reported the News-Press. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office’s school-based deputy used footage from a hallway camera to identify the involved students.
In the days that followed, a cellphone video of the girl engaging in sexual acts with several boys surfaced on social media, then was removed, the newspaper reported. The sheriff’s office initially declined to file charges against the students involved, but the cellphone footage prompted them to investigate further.
“We are looking into a video that has surfaced,” a sheriff’s office spokesman, Lt. Jeff Dektas, told the News-Press. “We’re just investigating it like any other case.”
The Florida Department of Children and Families told the newspaper in an email that it is also involved in the case, primarily investigating the “welfare and safety of the children involved.”
Defense attorney Lance Dunford told WINK News that those in possession of the graphic video could face child pornography charges.
“Parents, talk to your teenagers about these things,” he said. “This is a big deal.”
Earlier this week, Lee County Schools Superintendent Greg Adkins wrote a letter to parents addressing the incident and asking everyone to respect the students’ privacy.
“I ask we move forward from this incident without further harsh judgment of those involved,” he wrote toward the end of the letter. “They are adolescents who have made a serious mistake. They have been disciplined. They must now be afforded the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.”