Tina Frundt (Courtney’s House)

Tina Frundt’s story is one of survival. When she was 13 years old and living in Chicago, she met a man, who was about 15 years older than she was, while she was on her way to a store. The man, known as “Tiger,” basically groomed Frundt by befriending her and showering her with gifts.

“Little did I know,” she said in a 2011 interview, “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, he lured her out of state and they ended up in Ohio.

Frundt not only was turned into a sex slave but was also physically abused by Tiger. He also prevented her from escaping by instilling in her a fear of the police and of being jailed. When Frundt finally did escape and was found by the police, she was, in fact, jailed and criminalized. This is why Frundt created Courtney’s House in 2008.

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A survivor of child sex trafficking, Frundt has since dedicated her life to getting teens the help they need through the Washington, D.C.-based organization. Since its founding, Courtney’s House has helped more than 500 teens escape trafficking. Frundt has also been hands-on in training law enforcement and nonprofit groups about trafficking.

Over the last month, stories about missing D.C. teens have been brought to the forefront and received well-deserved media attention, but Frundt’s work started well before that. Although D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser noted that sex trafficking has been ruled out in those cases, Frundt’s work, and the fact that there is a sex trafficking problem, prompted President Barack Obama to name Frundt to the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking in 2015.

Just because local D.C. government officials have said that none of the missing seem to be victims of sex trafficking doesn’t mean there isn’t a sex trafficking problem—not only in the D.C. area but across the country and internationally.

“To be honest with you, I can tell you what we see. I’m on the task force. I know there’s a special [alternative] court called HOPE Court starting in the fall specifically for youth who have left home numerous [times] and who were sex-trafficked. I work directly with the police and they give us referrals. We did 30 referrals just last month, and four to five referrals each week,” Frundt told The Root when asked about Bowser’s statement on trafficking.

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Frundt also noted that a lot of attention has been placed on the girls who are missing, but her organization was created for both boys and girls.

“I want to make it really clear that this happens to boys as well. We’re really the only ones that provide services for [sex-trafficked] boys,” Frundt said. “We do street outreach every night from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. Our referrals come from parents, other survivors, behavioral-health [professionals] and probation [officers]. Schools also call us and refer [youths].”

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Frundt said that Courtney’s House is the only African-American and survivor-run organization in the D.C. area; 100 percent of the kids in her program were labeled missing at one point.

In speaking about the missing teens in the D.C. area, Frundt also made a point of refuting the claim that teens who are missing commonly run away because of their home environments.

“First of all, it’s not a true statement that everybody has a horrible home. We get a lot of parents, and they don’t come forward because of that statement. The parents are embarrassed at times and cannot say, ‘Our child went missing two weeks ago.’ These kids are meeting people at the McDonald’s down the street. They meet people online. We’re blaming kids for adult actions, and not the adults behind the scenes.”

And speaking of adults behind the scenes, who, exactly, are these people working in the supply-and-demand business of sex trafficking? Frundt, who doesn’t bite her tongue, knows exactly who they are.

“Most of the buyers that I [had were] Caucasian. Same thing [with] our survivors. These are people with money. They’re not out here paying $10 or $15. We’re also talking about things we don’t want to talk about,” Frundt said, alluding to people in high places in the D.C. area who are also involved. “People with disposable money are the buyers. This is $100 to $200 per person. These people have disposable income.”

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When it comes to the victims of sex trafficking, Frundt is adamant that the teens are not further victimized by the court system, as she was. She emphasized the fact that teens are being charged and put in jail.

“I do not believe in survivors going through the judicial system. Children like myself, who went to get help, are being put in jail. We are criminalizing yet another community—people of color—who are victims of a crime,” Frundt said. “This isn’t about policing when it’s a victim.”

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One of the main focuses of Frundt’s work in preventing sex trafficking is teaching teens and their parents about internet safety. As we all know, from shows like To Catch a Predator, people are preying on children right from their fingertips. From Instagram to Facebook, a buyer or even a pimp has access to thousands of teens. Beyond the main social media apps and sites, Frundt also mentioned the popular BackPages, as well as Craigslist.

“Internet safety plays a humongous role. People are telling kids to walk in groups. But that’s not how these teens are being preyed on. We need to be proactive. When we find teens, it’s because of social media. They give us the social media no one knows. We need to engage. Our kids talk to other kids,” Frundt said.

“What you see on your Instagram is not what the kids see,” she continued. “Please know that kids always have an account that you don’t know about. You pay the bill. It’s your phone. Have tracking devices on their cell. You absolutely have to do that. Know key words. Look at their Instagram. And look out for bullying.”

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Frundt wants to encourage people to get involved, but she also wants people to educate themselves the right way—and just reading online isn’t going to cut it, either.

“Reach out to organizations that know about trafficking. People are trying to education themselves online, and it’s not even the reality. Get with these orgs and find out how you can help in the community,” Frundt said. “We need people to show up more. People don’t know what’s out there, or that when kids are coming back from being missing, they’re being put in juvenile [detention].”

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To learn more about Frundt and to get involved with Courtney’s House, visit its website.