One young Texas sex-trafficking victim helped build solid case against her former pimp
SOLD FOR SEX: In Texas, an estimated 79,000 youth at any one time are being exploited for sex. Many are never rescued because so few cry out to police or other authorities for help. The San Antonio Express-News investigation “Sold for Sex” chronicles the lives of sex-trafficking victims, including a 16-year-old girl who was sold for sex up to 15 times a day, and examines what Texas law enforcement and service providers can do to help them.
Rene was 14 when she ran away from her aunt and uncle’s house.
They had adopted her two years earlier, after her mother died. Rene said they were “emotionally abusive.”
While staying at friends’ houses, she met a 14-year-old boy on Facebook who asked her to send photos and then offered to let her come stay with his family. That family included an older female cousin and her boyfriend, who had two children. Rene became their babysitter.
“All was well at first,” she recalled. “Then it was, ‘Oh, we need you to make some money.’ I thought they were talking about selling drugs.”
They dressed Rene in skimpy lingerie, posted photos of her on a social networking site and sold her body.
“I felt trapped,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do, because I had no place else to go.”
At first, the boyfriend gave her half the money from her “dates,” for which he charged $80 to $200, depending on the sex act. Then he started keeping all the money. Rene thought about escaping, but whenever the cousin attempted to leave, the boyfriend would beat her. Rene feared the same treatment.
For several months, she was sold an average of 10 times a day. She smoked marijuana to numb the despair. She was sold to a businessman, right there in his spacious corporate office. She was sold to a police officer. She was sold repeatedly to a “regular,” who knew she was underage.
SOLD FOR SEX: After Issac Williams convinced a 16-year-old he loved her, he sold her body for sex up to 15 times a day
In March 2017, she was apprehended as a runaway and began receiving services to deal with her trauma. She eventually helped detectives build a case against her former pimp by taking them to hotels and homes where she’d been sold. He was arrested last January and in June was indicted on a charge of continuous sex-trafficking of a person.
A big part of Rene’s healing has been coming to terms with what happened to her.
“I know I can’t just shut it out,” she said. “It’s not about accepting it, but being open to it. If I don’t deal with it now, it will come back and haunt my future relationships.”
Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje is a San Antonio Express-News staff writer. Read more of her stories here. | email@example.com | Twitter: @mstoeltje