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Arletta Grant doesn’t remember a lot about that time in her life. “I blocked it out,” she said.

But some things she can’t forget: “At nighttime, he would make me come into his room.”

“He” was an older male cousin who lived with her family in south Fort Worth. The physical and sexual abuse started when she was 11 and didn’t stop until Grant ran away at 13. After that, Grant’s family gave up custody to the state because they thought they couldn’t handle her. She spent the rest of her childhood in a rotating series of foster homes.

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“That’s when I really started giving it [sex] away like it was candy,” Grant said. “I was just looking for love, looking for somebody to want me, looking for closeness. I was having sex with whoever. Since I was molested, that was the only way I could feel close to somebody.”

The year she turned 18 was a milestone for Grant. She became an adult, and she became an addict, hooked on heroin, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine.

She also started going to clubs and having sex with men for money. And that meant that her legal status changed in another way: Officially, she stopped being a victim and became a criminal.

In the eyes of most police and the general public in this country, that second category is where most prostitutes belong. Few police departments make a habit of arresting the customers of prostitutes, though they too are breaking the law. Few intervention programs exist to help prostitutes break out of that lifestyle.

But across Tarrant County, people in several walks of life — researchers, some law enforcement officers, social workers, a district judge — see a different pattern, a different reality that they are trying to share with lawmakers, law enforcement, users of prostitution, and prostitutes themselves.

They see prostitutes, by and large, as victims of sexual abuse and sexual trafficking — crimes committed against the women both as children and adults.

Dr. Tomi Grover is an adjunct professor at Dallas Baptist University and law enforcement trainer in human trafficking. She estimated that over 90 percent of prostitutes in this country were sexually abused as children.

Most prostitutes get into that business when they’re still minors — in many cases, before they even entered their teens, explained Dr. Vanessa Bouché, an assistant professor of political science at Texas Christian University, who specializes in human trafficking research. The average age of girls who are compelled into prostitution is 12 to 14.

“The same exact women who were victims … are now criminals,” Bouché said.

State District Judge Brent Carr said that about 500 women are convicted of prostitution each year in Tarrant County.

But accurate numbers are hard to find. By one estimate, only about a quarter of sex trafficking and prostitution cases are actually reported.

A Fort Worth law enforcement officer, who asked not to be named, said law enforcement statistics aren’t always reliable “because arrests aren’t always made.” But it’s also true, he said, that few city officials are interested in studying the extent of the problem.

“Why would a city manager want to do a study on prostitution? Why would you want to bring it to light?” he asked.

Melissa Ice believes sex trafficking is a pervasive problem in Fort Worth. She’s the director of The Net, a faith-based nonprofit that serves the city’s homeless population, low-income neighborhoods, and sexually exploited women.

There’s not enough money allocated to the issue in Fort Worth to accurately measure its prevalence and make people sit up and take notice, she said.

Carr is one of those who has taken note. For years he watched women pass through his court in an unending repetition of arrest, conviction, sentences that usually amount to time served, release, and return to the streets or shops to begin the cycle again.

In 2011 he convinced the county to start a rigorous two-year intervention program that includes housing, curfews, drug testing, required counseling, and regular returns to his court to report progress or regression. Two years later, a state grant helped the county expand the program significantly. It’s called RISE, for Reaching Independence through Successful Empowerment.

RISE is still a small, rigorous program that only a handful of women have thus far successfully completed. But he and others are convinced that in the long run it will save women while also saving the county money because fewer women end up in jail.

“Houston is the worst — the city is built on it [sex trafficking and prostitution]. But it happens a lot in Fort Worth,” said Dottie Laster, a U.S. Department of Justice human trafficking consultant and law enforcement trainer.

“They aren’t addressing the problem,” she said of Fort Worth. She believes police need to change the way they conduct prostitution investigations, to focus on the buyer instead of the seller.

But it’s also up to the community to demand more of its elected officials and take a stand against sexual exploitation, Laster said.  “It shouldn’t be cool to talk about ‘pimping’ and ‘boys will be boys’ going to strip clubs.”

Ice agreed. “People have to know what’s going on,” she said. “Prostitution is modern-day slavery.”

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12 COMMENTS

  1. Regardless of one’s personal stance on people buying and selling sex, the claim that “the average age of girls who are compelled into prostitution is 12 to 14” is a myth, and not doing a fact check on such an important matter is more than just an oversight.

    For starters, look at Chris Hall’s article “Is One of the Most-Cited Statistics About Sex Work Wrong?”. You’ll find plenty of facts and sources in it. He concludes with a statement Ms Angle should take to heart:

    “For those of us who write about sex workers and those who make laws that determine their lives, they are a reminder of our responsibility: To quiet the voices in our heads and listen, rather than repeating numbers without knowing what they mean or where they came from.”

    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/09/is-one-of-the-most-cited-statistics-about-sex-work-wrong/379662/

    • So you are saying that all the organizations that have devoted their lives to helping those trapped in this modern day slavery are making up facts? I know ppl who have helped rescue ppl as young as elementary aged and then on an every day basis groups here are taking in teens as young as the ones you say are mythical. 1 in 7 runaways (on the low end) are trafficked within an extremely short time of leaving their homes. Traffickers wait at train & bus stations looking for those they can manipulate. They are very skilled at finding vulnerable youth. Then when they get them to their house (typically on the guise of saying they will take care of them) they are often raped and beaten into submission.

      Calling those that are being trafficked “sex workers” might imply that they are actually the ones getting paid. THATS the myth. The one making the money is the pimp. An average trafficker can make $250,000 a year of ONE girl/woman. While he is becoming a millionaire, her average life expectancy is 7 years.

      I too once was not knowledgeable about this. Then I decided to get involved. I see the results. My friends bear the scars physically and every other way of this so called “sex work”. Atleast call it what it is…slavery.

  2. You lose me when your philosophy predictably includes the following sentence: “There’s not enough money allocated to the issue in Fort Worth to accurately measure its prevalence and make people sit up and take notice, she said” So you are admitting that you really do not know the extent of the problem– which, more than likely, is why people are indifferent. Where would said money go? How efficiently would it be used? If you admit that you don’t know the extent of the problem, how can you have a viable plan? Money given to lard butted bureaucrats and assorted “do-gooders” will not put a dent in an age old practice. It would be refreshing if someone,anyone didn’t use human suffering as a tax payer funded poorly defined career opportunity.

    • there are many of us “assorted do-gooders” as you mentioned that work day in and day out for not.one.cent to help those in this city that are stuck in this modern day slavery. If you could sit across from these brave women who- much like slaves from hundreds of years ago- are compelled into this by various things and then when they want to get out, they are in danger of their life. Literally. They are beat, raped, tortured, forced to work for NOTHING and treated as less then human. That money you think they are making actually goes to their task masters. Yes, this is happening here and I- as well as many ppl I know- fight tirelessly- at much cost to ourselves in time and other expenses- for these brave ladies to know that someone, somewhere loves them and believes in them. seems to me they are worth tax dollars more than other things we waste money on….

      • OK well here’s a novel idea: if you are a prostitute get off of drugs, disavow liquor and get a job —ANY job. Try to re-create a link with your family if the government hasn’t destroyed it in the name of greater “Guberism”. Go to any local parish and proclaim your need for some further assistance. I am personally not impressed by life long criminals who really don’t want to give up their lifestyles—but want some crafty profit mongering PR firm or homeless shelter to perpetrate their cycle of destruction at tax payer expense.

        • Skeptic, I, unlike you, and I’m even convinced, most other knuckle-headed, self-worshiping, Tea-Bagging half-wits and perverts love America. Why do you hate America? What is it about ‘for it is in giving that we recieve’ that confuses you? Surender your selfish arrogence and put your silly, stinking Guberism into your pointed ears. Why do you hate and abuse our Lord’s simple instructions. Salvation Army and many, many other charities and Americans learned that as children.I got you on my Prayer List.

  3. Thank you for showing that these women are more than just “former prostitutes.” They are real people with goals and dreams. And I also believe that what Ms. Angle referenced about more severe prosecution of johns would go along way to slow the demand for prostitution. I hope more action is taken soon.

  4. This article shows a part of Fort Worth that few people want to see or even think about. I applaud the authors efforts to turn over the rock and show what’s underneath. You can look at the wording and statistics or look at the big picture. Yes this problem has been around for a while and will probably be around for a while longer but if this article reaches that one person that has a world changing idea that changes the game, then it was worth writing. But I have been know to always see greener grass. Thanks for the article.

    • Sorry but the purveyors of this industry are not going to read this newspaper or have a “Road to Damascus” experience and give up an illegal profitable life style. The economy is terrible and about to get worse with more illegals under the social welfare umbrella–that is specifically why this article is written–to bilk the hard working tax payer out of more money.

      • Yes. North Texas (and TX across the board) is methodically indoctrinated in order to maintain the population of drugged, dumbed down and distracted so MX and Central American “golden children” can continue to pour in, be “received” accordingly, get the multitude of services they need (while American citizens/veterans die awaiting treatment and or earned benefits). TX, already disproportionately illiterate, illegal and illegitimate, will continue to be the preferred territory for the former and related benefactors, including the reported 6 major MX cartels headquartered in DFW. Fort Worth does the best job of welcoming and hosting them resulting in a predominance of growing underclass; count on the proliferation of sex trafficking, drug distribution, sales and storage, illegal guns and associated disproportionate street and business crime. Locally, the inmates have had the keys a long, long time.

        • ‘For he was a stranger and he let me in’….’Love your neighbor as yourself’….you Peckerwoods are a piece of work. I humbly suggest you grow up and get a life.

  5. I believe it took great courage to tell the world there life stories and Miss Jordan is an amazing person that has come a long ways I am truly amazed of all her accomplishments she is an inspiration to us all and I am truly honored to have the opportunity to get to know her I would like to thank the rise Program for helping this wonderful woman and helping them become the woman they are truly meant to be.

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