- Associated Press - Sunday, November 8, 2015

MUNSTER, Ind. (AP) - When an 18-year-old woman learned the man she thought she was meeting for sex at a Merrillville hotel was actually a police officer, she took off running and jumped from a second-story balcony.

She broke her hip and pelvis in the fall, but later told police she was more afraid of what her pimp would do if she were arrested.

Lake County Sheriff’s Department Detective Darrick Hurst told the story to The Times to show how much control a pimp can have over a sex trafficking victim. Hurst and his partner, Detective John Biter, investigate human trafficking in Lake County and also work closely with the FBI’s Merrillville office and U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Hammond office.

Ultimately, the 18-year-old woman couldn’t separate from her pimp, who had brought her to Northwest Indiana from Milwaukee, Hurst said. She jumped over a 10-foot privacy fence at a women’s shelter and fled despite her injuries.

There is still a warrant for her arrest, he said.

“That’s not uncommon for a victim,” he said. “Given an out, it’s not uncommon for them to not take it right away.”

Hurst once thought human trafficking only happened overseas, he said.

He learned how often it happens in northwest Indiana after Sheriff John Buncich and Special Victims Unit Cmdr. Sharon Bennett asked him to establish the Human Trafficking Unit about two years ago, he said.

“It’s been hidden for so long, people don’t know it’s out there,” he said.

Aubrey Lloyd, who was forced into prostitution at age 16 in Colorado and now lives outside Indianapolis, said she escaped the sex trade after a drug dealer working with her pimp urged her to leave.

Lloyd said her exploiters took her and other girls to house parties, apartments and homes, hotel rooms and even a college campus in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where they were sold for sex. Police had raided several of those parties, and there was talk in the “family” about who had leaked information, she said.

“We called each other family,” she said.

“We called our pimp Daddy and the house mom, Mom. We did everything for the family. We weren’t just working, we weren’t just doing these bad things for no reason. We were doing them for the family.”

Lloyd said she was sitting outside one night in 1996 when the drug dealer told her she shouldn’t be there any longer.

“It sounds horrible, but I felt rejected,” she said. “I had been living there for almost a year, and I had no concept of where I would go.”

The drug dealer threatened to tell the pimp she was responsible for leaking information to police if she didn’t leave that night, she said.

“That, to me, felt more dangerous than running,” she said.

A client picked her up, and she cried as she told him she needed to escape.

“He was scared of getting in trouble,” she said. “He ended up taking me pretty close to my grandmother’s house. He dropped me off, and I walked there.”

Hurst said just two women - out of 45 active cases he and his partner have worked - have been ready to seek help and leave the sex trade.

Lloyd went on to graduate from high school on time, but her 15-year-old sister was later lured into the sex trade by a different group of people, she said.

Lloyd’s family tracked her sister from Colorado to Louisiana and Texas and finally found her in Portland, Oregon. She had been sex trafficked for nearly a year and was emaciated and addicted to crack cocaine, she said.

Lloyd said her sister had been in the foster care system and was placed in a care facility, but ran from there to their grandmother’s house. After two weeks with family, her sister committed suicide, she said.

“I just felt like she came home to say goodbye, because she couldn’t deal with all of the things that she experienced,” Lloyd said.

Lloyd said she didn’t want her sister’s death to be the end of their story. So she went back to college to study social work and planned on becoming a case worker or therapist. She later earned her master’s degree in social work and now works as an advocate and mentor.

She consults with agencies helping human trafficking victims by offering training and assistance with program development and implementation, she said.

She provides counseling and mentoring to other survivors and their support systems.

She also advocates for public awareness, prevention, legislation and policy changes. She has spoken to schools, colleges, churches, nonprofits, parents, law enforcement, treatment centers and other groups.

Lake County police first learned of Lloyd through her work with law enforcement, officials said.

People often see the sex trade as a black-and-white issue, Lloyd said, where women and girls make a choice to participate.

Instead, entry into prostitution is often a complicated, deceptive process that leaves girls and women questioning their view of themselves and the world, she said.

“So many people think it’s just a clear choice. That you say, ‘Yes, I want to be a part of this.’ And it’s not,” Lloyd said. “It’s such a slow fade. It’s such a slow progression. It’s such an intense recruitment process.”

Pimps often spend months recruiting women to work as prostitutes, Detective Hurst said.

Sex trafficking victims often have been physically or sexually abused as children, officials said.

“When you approach a girl and you ask her how she got started, a lot of the time it’s, ‘Well, my sister is doing it. My aunt does it. My friend’s mother got me involved,’” he said. “It’s just disturbing.”

The average age of sex trafficking victims is 18 to 25, but recruitment can start between ages 15 and 17, he said. The Lake County Human Trafficking Unit has not recovered anyone younger than 18 since it began two years ago, but has assisted in a federal case involving an underage victim, Hurst said.

“The goal of the pimp is to isolate that girl away from her family to make her think her family doesn’t want her,” Hurst said. “Then, once he has her, he makes her think her family doesn’t want her back after what she’s done. There’s some serious mind games.”

Recruiters can be boys or girls, Lloyd said. Victims aren’t just poor minority kids in urban settings, she said. She’s worked with girls who were recruited from upper middle-class suburbs, from church youth groups and from two-parent households, she said.

“That’s why I tell people you have to talk to your kids about this. It’s not going to come from a pimp with a fuzzy cane. It’s going to come from a kid that looks like your kid. It’s going to feel very normal and casual.”

Lloyd said she met her recruiter, a 18-year-old woman, while working a part-time job. Lloyd was 16, and the girl complimented Lloyd on her hairstyle.

Lloyd said she began spending more time with her new friend, going to the mall and movies and spending the night at the friend’s house with the friend’s mother and stepfather.

Lloyd said she had a history of abuse, which is common among sex trafficking victims because their feelings about past abuse can be used to manipulate them. She had been molested by two male family members, and her mother abused alcohol and drugs.

When the woman began asking about that past, Lloyd didn’t think anything of it.

“Instead of seeing that as a warning sign, I saw that as just someone being concerned about what I had been through in my life,” she said.

After several months, the woman persuaded Lloyd to run away from home.

“In my 16-year-old brain, that made sense to me,” she said. “Their house seemed to be quiet and calm and less chaotic.”

Her friend’s stepfather told her that night they ran an escort service and she could work for them, she said. Lloyd was adamant she wanted nothing to do with it, she said.

She went to a party with her friend later that same night, but she blacked out after drinking from a can of soda, she said.

“I’m pretty convinced that can of soda was drugged, because I don’t remember anything else from that night,” she said. “The next thing, I woke up to being sexually assaulted.”

When the assault was over, her friend’s stepfather came into the room and told her she didn’t have the option of telling him no, and she was forced into prostitution.

“People would tell me, ‘Why didn’t you go back home?’ ” Lloyd said.

“I just ran away from a place. Why would I go back home? I really had been isolated from all my other friends, so it wasn’t like I could go call another friend of mine. They were very good at really disconnecting me from everyone else in my life. I literally felt like I had nowhere else to go.”

Lloyd said her pimp had control over every aspect of her life, from what she ate to how she dressed to what her name and age were. She never accepted money, and all the girls were stripped down at the end of the night to ensure they weren’t hiding any tips, she said.

“We were never brought out onto the streets,” she said.

The men knew she was younger than 18, she said.

“These seemed like normal guys. They weren’t scary, creepy-looking guys you see on TV,” Lloyd said. “They were doctors and attorneys and even policemen. The people you think are safe were the people that were purchasing us.

“I just kind of felt like the whole world had turned upside down, and I didn’t know who was evil,” she said. “I had married guys show me pictures of their kids and their wife. Like what they were doing with me was OK.”

Hurst said he arrested a gas station manager, a construction worker and a man in his late 40s during one sting. All of them were married.

The Human Trafficking Unit has primarily investigated commercial sex crimes, though the detectives have an open labor trafficking case involving a restaurant, Hurst said.

Hurst said his unit conducts stings using Backpage.com and other social media sites, either by targeting women or by working with female police officers to target men.

When the detectives pose as men soliciting sex, their goal isn’t to arrest women, Hurst said. They’re hoping the women will give authorities information about their pimps and agree to go to a shelter, he said.

Approximately four out of five women the detectives talk to are sex trafficking victims, Hurst said.

Those who are not identified as trafficking victims still need empathy, Lake County’s commander Bennett said.

“Even the ones that say, ‘No, I don’t have a pimp. I’m out here on my own,’ there’s a history. Something happened in that person’s life that led them down that path,” she said. “It didn’t just start that day.”

Police treat all of the women as victims, officials said.

“No woman wakes up and says, ‘I want to be a prostitute today,’ ” Hurst said. “They don’t choose this life.”

Lloyd said some victims may appear to promote prostitution, but such behavior is often caused by the distorted world in which they’re living. It’s a “tangled web” where alcohol and drugs are often involved, she said.

“It became, ‘I’ve done it. I can’t undo it, and I’d rather act like I’m in control over it,’” she said.

Lloyd said she has yet to meet a girl who immediately identifies as a victim.

“This was fun, this was sexy. They were in control,” she said.

“They were empowered the whole time. No, you weren’t. I know you weren’t, because I was there. But I’d much rather admit to being that way than to admit that I was feeling horrible and lost and disgusted the whole time. No one wants to admit to that.”

Lloyd said it took her many years before she could identify as a victim of human trafficking. She routinely faces criticism and has been excommunicated by some for sharing her story publicly, she said.

Still, she’s proud of the work she does.

“I don’t just talk about my story,” she said. “I help other people heal and walk a different path they didn’t know they had. And that’s fun for me.”

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Source: The (Munster) Times, https://bit.ly/1NOSBvQ

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Information from: The Times, https://www.thetimesonline.com

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