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Tina Frundt: A Survivor's Story

By Kate Rosin
Tina campaigning against human trafficking in Washington DC [© Free the Slaves/Romano]

Tina Frundt was 13 when she first met her trafficker. On her way to a neighborhood store in Chicago one day, a young man--maybe 15 years her senior--struck up a conversation. In the weeks and months that followed, this seemingly affable character, known on the street as "Tiger," won her affections, listening sympathetically as she recounted her teenage woes, driving her to school and showering her with gifts. "Little did I know," she reflects today, "he was planting the seeds of manipulation. It did not matter what my parents said to me, they did not understand me, and he was the only one that ‰got me.'" On her 14th birthday, Tiger, who had in fact been monitoring Tina's behavior closely for a month prior to approaching her, successfully lured her to Ohio.

Upon arriving in Cleveland, the real nature of their relationship quickly became clear. At Tiger's insistence, Tina had to start work as a sex slave that night. How else, he contended, could she prove that her affections for him matched his for her? Any resistance by Tina was to no avail, as her trafficker invited his friends to rape her in succession. "Seasoned" by this ordeal, she was forced, along with four other minors, onto the streets to begin her career in her pimp's human trafficking business.

For over a year, Tina was used by up to 18 customers a day. Tiger employed calculated ways of ensuring her submission. Notifying the police, he explained, would only result in her arrest and mistreatment in jail. Meanwhile, the repercussions of failing to earn the mandatory US$500 daily would include extreme physical abuse. In addition to suffering countless cigarette burns, Tina had her arm broken with a baseball bat and her fingers slammed in doors. His strategy worked. "Not only was I shocked," Tina recalls, "I was scared. What would happen to me if I did try to leave, and who would believe me if I told them what was going on?"

The price of her freedom, when it finally came, was by no means cheap. Being discovered by the police allowed Tina to escape her condition as a sex slave. The downside, however, was that she was arrested and placed in juvenile detention where, instead of receiving much needed counseling for the trauma she had endured, she was treated as a delinquent. Nor did her release from prison bring healing. "I spent one year locked up and came out at the end with no referrals for services or assistance to rejoin a teenager's life in America."

Notwithstanding these hardships, Ms. Frundt has since made it her mission "to be a part of the solution." In 2008, Tina founded her own Washington DC-based antislavery organization, Courtney's House, born of a desire to provide those specialized services that in her experience had been so sorely lacking. She subsequently opened Shae's Place, a long-term shelter and aftercare facility for girl victims aged 12-18 in northern Virginia. Adequate safe and appropriate shelter is, in Tina's words, "the most debilitating gap" in current provisions for young victims of domestic sex trafficking.

In 2010, Ms. Frundt's efforts were formally recognized when she was awarded the Frederick Douglass Award for helping over 500 victims escape from sex slavery. Tina also trains law enforcement and NGOs in rescuing and providing resources to victims, as well as being a member of the Washington DC Anti-Trafficking Task Force. She has spoken at the United Nations and testified before the US Congress.

Tina still finds it difficult to recount her experiences in public, but nevertheless recognizes the importance of doing so as a means of raising awareness on domestic sex trafficking and commercial sex exploitation. "I don't think people understand that there can be sex slaves in the United States," she asserts. "The reason why I'm so compelled to do this work is because I'm a survivor of sex trafficking, and quite honestly, nobody did this for me."

Kate Rosin works for Free the Slaves and wrote this article based on interviews with Tina Frundt. Read the stories of other former slaves and of the work being done to end slavery at www.freetheslaves.net

What can we do to free more slaves?

There is the potential for consumers and business to liberate slaves and help them achieve lives with dignity. Here are seven things that consumers, businesses and citizens can do to end slavery:

1. Educate yourself about modern slavery and raise awareness in your community.

2. Recognize and report the signs of slavery. Many cases of slavery are exposed by ordinary citizens who report their suspicions to the authorities. Attempting to intervene personally can be dangerous to oneself and to the enslaved person.

3. Support local human rights advocates, domestic violence and homeless shelters and immigrants rights groups. Each may help victims of trafficking.

4. Support antislavery workers by donating money to antislavery organizations.

5. Ask vendors if their products (clothes, produce, etc.) are Fair Trade or slave-free. Let them know that labor standards are important to you as a customer, and that you want to purchase merchandise that is produced responsibly.

6. Ask your elected representatives what they are doing to end slavery.

7. Become an antislavery business leader, approach antislavery experts to help you evaluate how to eradicate slavery at source. Support good governance where you do business.

Learn more and support these expert organizations:

www.freetheslaves.net
www.antislavery.org/english/

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