A mother’s story: Vulnerable daughter caught up in trafficking

June 2015 Posted in People

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series on sex trafficking. To protect the family, the names have been changed. The family lives in Our Town’s readership area. 

By Kristine Thomas

There was something about her then 27-year-old daughter’s new boyfriend that Alice did not like.

Polite and intelligent, Tony looked like a nice guy, always wearing new athletic shoes. “He told us he went to school in (another state) and played football,” Alice said. “He spoke intelligently and said all the right things. He was a nice looking guy. The kind of guy you would see working down the street.”

And her daughter, Laura, was head-over-heels in love.

“She kept telling me that he would take care of her,” Alice said, adding Tony gave her daughter expensive handbags, clothes and shoes.

Still, Alice and her husband had concerns about Laura dating Tony. They hoped he wouldn’t be around too long.

“One thing that concerned me was before Laura brought Tony to meet us, she told us we couldn’t wear red,” Alice said. “When I asked her why and if he was in a gang, she told me not to worry about that and that he was going to take care of her.”

Living in Salem, Laura met Tony after she had broken up with a longtime boyfriend. Laura and the former boyfriend were unemployed.

“She was vulnerable and she was making choices that weren’t great choices,” Alice said, “and Tony kept telling Laura he was going to take care of her.”

Alice saw her daughter with Tony a couple times. Once it was when she was at an event with the mother of her daughter’s former boyfriend. “The mom told me that Tony was bad news,” Alice said, “and that her son didn’t like him.”

In 2013, Laura was living with Tony in Salem when she called her mom to share she was going to visit Tony’s mom in another state. Laura said she would be gone a week or two. Alice was uneasy about the trip but knew she could keep in contact with Laura by cell phone.

Laura would regularly call her family so when she didn’t, Alice became worried. She tried calling and texting her daughter. The response was in short texts such as “I’m fine,” or “Everything’s OK” or “Will call soon.”

After being away almost two months, Laura called Alice, saying she and Tony needed a place to stay. She asked if they could live with her.

“I told her it was OK if she came home, and that we would welcome her, but not Tony,” Alice said. “The next thing I knew Tony was calling me and yelling at me. He was saying I didn’t support my daughter and that he did. That I didn’t love her and he did. In 20 minutes, he had me in tears.”

For months, the pattern continued with Alice having little or no contact with her daughter. What contact she did have was short texts or random updates on Facebook or quick phone calls where her daughter told her everything was fine.

In 2014, Alice received a call from another daughter, telling her that Laura was pregnant. “Laura didn’t call or text to tell me,” Alice said. When Alice finally spoke with Laura, she asked if there was a plan. Laura didn’t know.

“A couple days go by and Tony calls and tells me he is going to take care of Laura and the baby and that I never did take care of her,” Alice said. “He starts tearing me down again and lashing out at me. I am thinking if he’s calling me every name in the book, what’s he doing to my daughter?”

The days, weeks and months go by and Alice has little contact with her daughter. She is both mad and scared. One night, her son calls her and tells her Laura wants to come home. That she needs money for bus ticket. Communicating by Facebook, Laura says her phone is broken.

When Laura returns home, she’s anxious to leave again. Always on the edge, she spends more time talking with Tony on the phone than her family.

Anytime Alice tried to talk with Laura, her daughter would tell her she couldn’t talk or that they didn’t understand what she was going through.

“She told me to mind my own business and that she doesn’t want to talk with us,” Alice said, adding Laura repeatedly told her parents that they wouldn’t understand.

Alice said her husband tried to eavesdrop on Laura when she was using his phone to talk with Tony. After she got off the phone, she told her parents that they will probably end up dead.

“I tried to hug her and she flinched and jumped away,” Alice said, adding Laura stayed in Oregon 24-hours before returning to Tony’s state.

Alice said Tony prevented the family from contacting Laura, including screening phone calls and turning off Laura’s Facebook page. Looking back, she realizes many of the messages she believed were from Laura were from Tony.

Determined to find her daughter, Alice remembered Laura had used her husband’s cell phone to call Tony when she was home. They learned where the two were and decided to call the police the next day to report their daughter missing.

Only the next day, they received a phone call from Tony’s mother saying Laura, Tony and another man had been arrested. According to the police, the three suspects were arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit human trafficking in the kidnapping of another woman.

“I think there is no way this could be my daughter,” Alice said.

Alice shared her story to let other families know women from good families – families who love and care about their daughters – can become victims of sex trafficking. It can happen to women from small towns to big cities. What all the women have in common is they are in one way or another vulnerable, making them an easy target for the pimp.

What Alice now knows is Laura was courted by what police call a “Romeo pimp.” Romeos use five ways to trap women: recruitment, seduction, isolation, coercion and violence.

Romeo pimps promise to take care of the woman and the woman thinks she is the only one in the man’s life. This isn’t true. Pimps usually have a “stable,” or a group of women or girls under his control. After a whirlwind “romance,” the pimp takes the woman away from her support system so she is isolated.

He breaks her – in this case Tony stabbed and beat Laura in front of his mother, telling Laura if he can do this with his mother present, imagine what he can do if she doesn’t obey him. He threatened to kill Laura’s family if she revealed what was happening. Tony, they now know, belongs to a notorious gang.

Laura gave birth to a healthy baby last year. The child is with Tony’s mother. Alice has hired an attorney to gain custody and to help Laura in her legal battle.

Alice never imagined her life would be like this – fighting for her daughter and her grandchild. If Laura had told the police everything she knew when she was arrested, she wouldn’t be in jail, Alice said, adding Laura didn’t say anything for fear of Tony and what he would do to her baby and her family.

Alice has visited Laura several times, each time learning a little more about what her daughter has endured. “Laura told me that Tony got control of her mind and once he did that, it was all over,” she said.

What has been Alice’s saving grace is her faith and close friends who know the truth. She thanks Esther Craig of County Line Safety Compass for her help navigating the system and securing advocates for her daughter.

Alice wants people to know sex trafficking isn’t something that happens somewhere else to someone else’s child.

“I know people will read this and think what could have been done differently? How does this happen? It happened because she was vulnerable. Something that can happen to anyone at any time,” Alice said.

“Romeo pimps take advantage of women who are vulnerable and break them down. Just because she was in a vulnerable place doesn’t give people the right to take advantage of her and traffic her.”

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.