Trafficking victim works to help others forced into prostitution
Katherine Moon says she was 13 when she was forced into prostitution. By the time she was 20, she had worked for 13 pimps.
Moon will join Traffick911, a nonprofit group in Keller on Saturday for a 5K and One Mile Fun Run to raise money for a regional safe house for victims of child sex trafficking. As an advocate for Traffick911, Moon, now 22, said she is telling her story to prevent other children from making the mistakes she made.
In 2003, Moon says, she was walking to her boyfriend's house in Addison when a man with corn-rowed hair stopped his black Mercedes-Benz and leaned out of the window.
"He told me I was beautiful," Moon remembered. Then he gave her his phone number. After an argument with her boyfriend, she says, she called the man.
"He gave me some X [Ecstasy]. We partied, we shopped," Moon said. "He took me to an apartment in Arlington that was right across the street from Six Flags. I started turning tricks that same night."
Deena Graves, executive director of Traffick911, said her group has identified about 30 girls who, like Moon, were being bought and sold in North Texas. Graves said she has only been able to find havens for five of them. One 14-year-old girl was sold in six states in one month, Graves said. A 15-year-old who was working in a Northeast Tarrant County strip club had to be sheltered in a hotel near Fort Hood because there were no beds for her anywhere else, Graves said.
"She's safe there, but she's not getting the treatment that she needs," Graves said. "After they go through something like this, they need a lot of education, mentoring and protection. Many of these kids are being trafficked right under our noses."
Nationwide, there are only about 300 beds dedicated to housing victims of child sex trafficking, Graves said.
She said Traffick911's safe house will be built on a 168-acre ranch in a secluded area in North Texas. Facilities for child sex trafficking victims must remain hidden to keep the victims safe. The facility, tentatively named Triumph House, will initially house 20 trafficking victims, Graves said.
The safe house will require specially trained staff who understand the trauma and torture the children go through, Graves said.
"They've done brain scans of these children and they are similar to scans of those who have been prisoners of war," Graves said. "They have strong trauma bonds because of the manipulation that occurs. The traffickers get them addicted to drugs. You cannot say enough about how unique their trauma is."
Sophia Grant, a physician working with victims of child sexual abuse at Cook Children's Medical Center, said awareness of child trafficking is slowly increasing. But there is still a perception that this is a problem in other countries but not in the United States, Grant said.
"It's difficult in this society when children are prematurely sexualized," Grant said. "It's difficult to fight this when you can use the Internet to order up a child to have sex with like you would order up a pizza."
Spotting sex trafficking victims is not taught in medical school or continuing education classes for healthcare workers, Grant said. Nurses are getting better at recognizing the signs and asking the right questions, but better does not mean good. Grant estimates that only 3 percent of healthcare workers have had training in how to spot victims of child sex trafficking.
"The child may have a reoccurring history of sexually transmitted disease or there may be a parent nearby who answers all the questions and won't let the child speak. All these are signs," Grant said. Moon says her life took a dramatic turn after a 2011 arrest in Maryland. She and Bennett Hanford, whom she describes as her 13th pimp, had just checked into a motel in Linthicum. Officers from the Anne Arundel County Police Department had been watching the room, according to a court filing. Within a few hours, police counted four men entering the room where Moon was staying, according to a court report.
Moon and Hanford were both arrested and police found more than $3,600 in cash in the room.
"I would call Hanford after every trick and I'm like, what the heck, why was he not answering the phone?" Moon said. "Then the police knock on the door, come in the room and start looking for drugs."
One of the arresting officers told Moon he saw something in her and dropped by her cell a few days later with brochures from groups that could help her, she said.
"My arresting officer came to see me three days after I was put in jail and I was crying, blaming myself for getting Hanford arrested," Moon said. "But Hanford had a list of things he had done with little kids. I was turned out when I was 13. I don't really respect a man who goes after little kids."
Moon spent her 21st birthday in jail and was later released. Anti-trafficking organizations in Maryland and the District of Columbia began helping her put her life back together and she became a spokeswoman for their causes. When Moon moved back to Texas to be near family, she started speaking on behalf of Traffick911.
Traffick911 has provided Moon with a mentor, counseling and job search assistance, and is preparing to have some of her tattoos removed, Graves said.
Coming back to the place where everything started has been traumatic, Graves said. But Moon said she can handle it.
"I'm not a victim, I'm a survivor," Moon said.