Interview with Tina Frundt. Trafficking survivor & 2010 Frederick Douglass Award Winner
Tina Frundt says that no little girl dreams of becoming a sex slave when she grows up. That’s why Tina risks her life in the middle of the night to reach out to teens that are trapped. She knows their pain and fear. “The reason why I’m so compelled to do this work is because I’m a survivor of sex trafficking,” Tina says, “and quite honestly, nobody did this for me.”
It takes Tina just ten seconds to let a sex slave know that someone cares about their plight and can help them escape. She does it on the streets of Washington, D.C. at night. Walking casually along, she hands off a simple trinket that contains a telephone hotline number. It’s a covert encounter, and Tina and her team work hard to blend in so that traffickers won’t become suspicious.
Tina started her own anti-slavery organization with a small inheritance she received when her adoptive mom died in 2008. It’s called Courtney’s House, named for one of her daughters. The group runs the street outreach project and telephone hotline. She opened a first-of-its kind shelter for U.S.-born teenage sex slavery survivors in the Washington metro area. It provides a safe and supportive environment for survivors to begin rebuilding their lives.
It’s difficult for Tina to tell her story in public, but she does so to build awareness that American children are being forced into sex slavery on American soil. She has brought her message to the United Nations and the U.S. Congress.
Q:How dangerous is the outreach work for you? Are you worried about the pimps recognizing you on the streets? A:I don't do the direct street outreach anymore. I have a team of 30 women who are wonderful. They go out in groups of 4 no less than 3. I had to stop doing the direct outreach because of too much exposure. So they go and do a wonderful job.
Q:How does one become an outreach worker for your team?
A:It's a 3 tier interview process and a week long training. Everyone has to have background checks and females only go out to do outreach.
Q:What is the biggest challenge you face with the work you are doing?
A:To be honest with you, the biggest challenge that we face at Courtney's House is convincing people that slavery exists inside the United States. We think overseas immediately when we think about trafficking, but we don't think about the 250,000 children trafficked within the United States. So that's the biggest challenge we have come across, letting people know that it's happening here.
Q:What do you see as the biggest opportunity for you?
A:The Freedom Awards, definitely. I am the first U.S. citizen to ever win the award and I think that shows how we have grown and started to recognize the issue within the United States. But more importantly to me I am going to speak on the side of the kids that I work with. Because people are surprised to find that someone actually cares about them and what is going on with them. So I think this has a huge impact on our work.
Q:Can you share any recent successes?
A:Yes, definitely. We just had a new town house donated to us to use for an office and our new drop-in center space. Recently we also had a minivan donated to us for our group home. So I think that really shows people are learning, understanding the issues and trying to give. Because Federal money, I don't get and we need these donations.
Q:I understand your shelter is the first of a kind.
A:Yes, it is. We now have our shelter and drop-in center. Now we can provide housing, but also a place for kids to go for services and help.
Q:You also provide shelter and services for boys that are trafficked, correct?
A:Yes, we work with boys. We are the only organization that works with U.S. citizen boys who are trafficked. We are the only ones in the United States. And I think that's because people don't understand the issue of trafficking with boys. To be honest with you, boys are actually the worst cases. They start younger, they're abused more and that's because they don't speak out because they're boys. It surprises me every day when people say, "Boys are trafficked?" Well boys are abused, why wouldn't they be trafficked?
Q:I recently wrote a blog post about that. A boy was sitting with a man on a flight. A lady noticed things looked out of place. When the man left for the restroom, she asked the boy where they were headed. He thought they were going t a different place than their destination and some things didn't add up. She told the flight attendants and the police were there when the plane landed. Turned out he was being trafficked to Florida and the man was arrested.
A:Yes, it happens with boys. And that's all boys we work with. Ages 11 to 16.
Q:How young have you seen them started or forced into prostitution?
A:Well you see what most people don't understand is that boys start younger. Boys are usually trafficked between the ages of 5 to 10. Many are in the foster care system and homeless. And may I say we also help gay and transgender. I think it's really important for people to understand that.
Q:As I write and learn about various stories of trafficking, modern slavery, I find it can be difficult to stay positive. As a survivor of trafficking yourself, how do you stay positive and focused in your work?
A:I come from a different perspective, being a survivor. I can be honest and tell you that the good thing about me is that I can separate my emotions. The bad thing about me is that I can separate my emotions. So what I focus on is definitely how to help the victim. That's it. If you worry about the story, if you take that on, you are not going to be able to focus on how to help that person. My focus is always how can I help them right now. What can I do right now. Not their story and how horrible their story is, but what can I do to help them get out of their situation right now. And I have to be strong for them, because if I'm crying because of their story then it will disrupt things and they are not going to trust me. They are going to think, you know, that I'm weak. And that's not my motive. My motive is to help them.
Q:How can people get involved and support your work?
A:There are so many ways you can get involved now. Visit our websitewww.courtneyshouse.org. You can donate there and apply to be a volunteer at Courtney's House. There are tons of different ways that people can help.