Story of woman’s rape illustrates prevalence of sex trafficking

By Maura Wery

Kristen Tebow was just beginning her freshman year as a piccolo player in the K-State Marching Band in August 2006. She was looking forward to starting college and making many friends.

“I had never been one of the popular girls,” Kristen said. “But I was very content with my life.”

Because of her love of children, she had decided to major in elementary education and planned to become a teacher.

“I considered myself coming from a privileged home with a great family,” she said.

Within a few weeks, Tebow had made the many friends she was hoping for, one of whom was another band member, a senior girl. One day during practice, the girl talked about a party she had heard about and asked Tebow to go.

“I was very excited and could hardly contain myself through practice,” Tebow said. “I had never been to a party before.”

When the girls met up later that night, the girl convinced Tebow to change into provocative clothing.

“She told me that I should put on a different shirt,” Tebow said. “I looked at what she was wearing and couldn’t picture wearing anything like that.”

But Tebow relented and changed clothes, and the girl took her to a bar in Junction City where they met up with two men.

“I got a weird feeling in my gut,” Tebow said. “I wondered why there were men greeting us.”

Once there, Tebow said she was drugged, dragged out of the bar and then taken to a hotel room where she was repeatedly raped by seven men through the night until the next morning.

Tebow said she doesn’t remember much about the night. She was in and out of consciousness the whole time.

However, she does remember the next morning. She woke in a hotel room with several men she didn’t know asleep next to her.

She remembers her body being “bloody, bruised and sore,” she said, but none of her possessions had been taken.

Tebow begged the girl to take her home, but before they left, the men paid the girl a large sum of money for bringing Tebow to them.

That payment made the incident not just rape but sex trafficking.

‘A huge, explosive problem’

Sex trafficking is when people are taken from one place to another and forced to do sexual acts against their will. Victims can be female or male; young or old and from the U.S. or abroad. It can be a one-time arrangement, as in Tebow’s case, or more permanent. Victims are usually pushed by a “pimp” and forced to do sexual acts for money which is almost always given to the pimp.

Human trafficking isn’t as uncommon as many people believe it is. According to the Polaris Project, a non-profit organization that works to combat human trafficking, 27 million people are trafficked worldwide annually.

Twelve million are trafficked for forced labor while 9.8 million are trafficked into sexual slavery. Another 2.5 million are taken to foreign countries and forced to work for governments or rebel groups. Of that 27 million people, only about 49,000 are identified by officials each year. In the United States, the data surrounding sex trafficking is scarce, but there is some data on children under the age of 18.

Approximately 200,000 children are trafficked within the U.S. annually, and 98.8 percent of them are endangered runaways.In the state of Kansas in 2012, the Polaris Project counted 26 potential sex-trafficking cases. Not all of those are officially classified as such by law enforcement officials. Some of those who are caught are charged with kidnapping, prostitution or other sex crimes, which is why.

Most of sex-trafficking cases occur in the Kansas City and Wichita areas. In fact, they are fourth and fifth, respectively, for trafficking among all cities in the United States.And Manhattan is not exempt.

Shelly Williams, director of Community Corrections for Riley County, said that last year four cases of sex trafficking were reported in Riley County.

The first case involved two 17-year-old girls from the Wichita area. One of the girls, who was placed in police protective custody after being arrested, was pimping out the other, a runaway from the area.

The second case involved a woman who was working as a prostitute. She and her husband would bring their baby along when they went out on jobs. The parents were charged with prostitution, but because they transported the child, the case was classified as sex trafficking. The child was placed into the care of the Department of Child and Family Services.

In another case, a 16-year-old girl was found being trafficked from Oklahoma City. Williams said the girl told police she ran away because of abuse.

The police first helped place her in a facility for trafficking victims under the assumption she was 18.

When it was discovered she was actually 16, the state was forced to send her back to Oklahoma and place her into police custody.

The final case reported was in October, when a 5-month-old child was taken into custody after its parents and an aunt were arrested for prostitution. Again, the case was considered trafficking because the people were transporting the child.

“This is a huge, explosive problem,” said Deb Kluttz, director of The Homestead in Manhattan. The Homestead is a facility created by Kluttz and sponsored by Westview Church as a place for women who are exiting the sex trade and are looking for a fresh start.

 

Prime real estate

Sex trafficking in Kansas and Missouri has increased in recent years because pimps view those states as a prime place to find victims.

“The Midwest is their favorite recruiting grounds,” Kluttz said.

Kluttz said pimps look regularly for those who are runaways, and 1 in 3 of their victims are pushed into trafficking within 48 hours of leaving home.

The Midwest is also a great location to get victims from point A to point B because of its central location.

Also, the highways in the state of Kansas allow victims to be taken south through Interstate 35 or east or west via Interstate 70.

And while sex-trafficking victims can be anyone, Tebow said she has noticed the high recruitment of young white women.

“The target population are blonde-haired, blue-eyed girls from the Midwest,” Tebow said. “Specifically they target Kansas and Missouri. Pimps recruit out of shopping malls, and through false advertisements, college programs, internships, etc., and they take them to various places in the U.S.”

 

The different masks

Trafficking is a multifaceted crime. Some cases of trafficking can be temporary, like in the case of Tebow. They are no less damning, but once the person is finished with their forced sexual act, they are normally free to go.

“Depending on the situation and the circumstances of the trafficking, a person can suffer psychological, physical, emotional and sexual trauma,” Tebow said. “It can change you as an individual.”

Other victims are not so lucky. Most sex trafficking victims are forced into a type of sexual slavery where they are forced to perform acts over and over at the will of their pimps.

Sex traffickers operate in a variety of ways. For many, it’s a high-tech enterprise. Those pimps don’t physically push their victims on the street.

Instead, they use a safer and less traceable method: websites.

Online, pimps sell their victims as many times as necessary without even showing their faces.Another popular method, especially in Kansas, is the fake business.

These businesses, on the surface, look as if they employ people who are consenting to their lifestyle, when in reality, the people are being forced into sexual slavery.

Strip clubs and massage parlors are the most common fronts, Kluttz said.

Fake businesses like these aren’t just hurting the people they are trafficking; they are also ruining the image of those who legitimately work in those industries.

Another area that is susceptible to trafficking events is truck stops.

Pimps will bring victims to different truck stops and have them perform sex acts with different men.

The Polaris Project estimates that many victims who are taken to truck stops sleep with 6 to 10 people in one session and can raise around $1,000 for their pimps with each act.

Kluttz said truck stops on I-70 near Junction City are hot spots for traffickers.

“They call them lot lizards,” Kluttz said. “They knock on doors, and the truckers will either let them in or not,” Kluttz said.

According to the Polaris Project, stopping trafficking at truck stops can be difficult because “Efforts by law enforcement to stop trafficking at truck stops in one location or region are undermined as the johns and pimps simply relocate to truck stops under less scrutiny.”

 

Difficulty in prosecuting

Many of those who escape trafficking never see their pimps get charged. Tebow, for example, said her pimp and rapists were never formally charged.

She did file a police report days after her trafficking event.

“I couldn’t identify any of them,” Tebow said. Because she didn’t conclusively recognize any of the men involved, her pimp wasn’t charged for the crime.

Although many victims end up like Tebow, unable to charge their attackers, Kansas is setting new, harder legislation on sex trafficking.

The sex trafficking legislation in the state is around a decade old but just this week, Gov. Sam Brownback signed new legislation that will give those caught trafficking children harsher sentences.

According to the Polaris Project, Kansas is currently considered a Tier 2 state, meaning that the “state has passed numerous laws to combat human trafficking and should take more steps to improve and implement laws.”

The current statute says that human trafficking is a Level 2 felony, which is the second-worst felony a person can receive in the state.

Aggravated human trafficking is a Level 1, the worst felony someone in the state could receive.

 

Education is key

Because sex-trafficking crimes — and their victims — are so varied, they can be nearly impossible to identify and to legislate.

“Our girls are at risk,” Tebow said. “It is very hard to give hard numbers about at-risk populations because there are so many cases of girls/women/boys — even men — who have been trafficked and not categorized as trafficking.”

Both Tebow and Kluttz said they are pushing for the education of people in the community and also the police force about the signs of sex trafficking as opposed to sex trade work.

“It is almost impossible to prevent human trafficking because that would be like saying we can spot the signs,” Tebow said.

“However, we like to educate the public about the dangers, certain activities, and patterns of behaviors of certain individuals. We can try to gauge a profile of what a trafficker looks like, but honestly, it looks like anyone.”

Recovering from trafficking

Tebow struggled for years after her trafficking incident. After being told by her family to just put it behind her, Tebow fell into a deep depression. She failed out of college, quit being involved in activities and ultimately tried to take her own life.

“After struggling for years with depression, counseling started to be successful,” Tebow said. “In 2008, I started attending group counseling and became strong enough to start talking about my story.”

That year, Tebow went back into school. She changed her major to criminology and started the awareness group Freedom Alliance at K-State. She also has worked with women at The Homestead alongside Kluttz.

Currently, Tebow works as the public relations coordinator for Forsaken Generation, a national nonprofit group that works to prevent the domestic sex trafficking of minors by educating middle school and high school students.

“Our overall goal is to empower and inspire as many organizations, churches, ministries, students and businesses as possible to get behind what we are doing so we can have more resources to do more,” Tebow said. “The more people that are involved in one cause, the more impact that cause will ultimately have.”

Tebow graduated from Kansas State University in 2011 with her degree in criminology and women’s studies.

She now lives in Manhattan and commutes to Washburn University, where she is pursuing a master’s degree in social work.









Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | The Manhattan Mercury, 318 North 5th Street, Manhattan, Kansas, 66502 | Copyright 2016