Tina Frundt doesn't have happy memories of Cleveland. The former foster child arrived here from Chicago on her 14th birthday, in a car driven by a man who convinced her he loved her when no one else did.
She said she was taken to a house where four other teen girls livedand was raped by two men she didn't know, beginning what would become more than a decade of being trafficked as a sex slave.
"How do you get out when you have no resources to get out?" Frundt, now in her 30s, asked an audience of about 250 Thursday at the Human Services Institute, an annual conference on health, social and economic issues hosted by the Center for Community Solutions.
"It took me many years, which is why I started Courtney's House," a program that rescues and provides resources and shelter to trafficking survivors in Washington, D.C., Frundt said.
She is also a leader in efforts to end the multimillion-dollar sex trafficking industry. Frundt trains law enforcement officials and nonprofit groups to rescue and provide resources to victims.
Sex trafficking, Frundt said, is frequently dismissed as a foreign problem, allowing it to grow unchecked.
"Here we label it something else. We say it's prostitution, it's pimping," Frundt said.
But it's actually the marketing and selling of children, she said. Teens and even younger children are pulled in regularly to work as prostitutes, in strip clubs and to produce child porn, according to Frundt.
It's supply and demand economics at work, "and unfortunately the demand is for our children," Frundt said. Until society wakes up and views it that way, she added, children will continue to be exploited.
Frundt grew up in foster care until she was adopted at age 12, and said she was an easy mark when she gained the attention of a man who said he wanted to take her on a trip.
She wasn't a runaway, she said. But at age 14, she was too fearful and inexperienced to know how to escape.
She said many sex traffickers have multiple homes in different cities so they can spirit youngsters away from their hometowns.
"It's been going on in front of our noses. We don't know what to look for," Frundt said.
Renee Jones, who volunteers her time to operate a local outreach and advocacy program for sex trafficking victims, said she was grateful to see the issue given so much attention at the event, held at La Centre in Westlake.
"She's not making this up. This stuff is real," she said of Frundt's presentation.
Cleveland needs a specialized shelter similar to Courtney's House where survivors can recover from trauma and can be protected from sex traffickers, Jones said.
"I have victims being brought to me, and they have no where to go."
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