A 15-year-old girl who was filmed having sex with multiple boys in a Florida high school bathroom in an incident that prompted an investigation was a victim of human trafficking, her mother said in a recent interview.
The teen’s mother reached out to local television station WBBH, asking the media outlet to share her story in hopes of setting the record straight.
Her mom did not wish to appear on camera, but a woman who has worked with the girl served as the family’s spokesperson.
“I had heard … a lot about the incident through the news. I heard it and thought there are some red flags,” said Megan Estrem. “What’s upsetting about this is this behavior is not uncommon for human trafficking victims.
Estrem, the founder of “Be the Light,” an advocacy group for victims of sex slavery, says she sees cases like this all the time.
“Sex trafficking is a very traumatizing experience,” she said.
The girl’s mom took her daughter to the organization after having saved her from a human trafficker who held her captive for two years.
“She was only 13 when she was trafficked,” said Estrem.
The girl was placed into multiple treatment programs, the most recent was eight months long.
But because she’s a runaway, only a handful of programs would accept her. None of them addressed the devastating ramifications of sexual abuse.
“She did get some help, but it wasn’t specific for what she needed,” said Estrem.
She was a student at South Fort Myers High only two weeks when the incident happened.
“She was not equipped to make a stable, rational decision in that situation,” said Estrem.
Her mother said the girl went to the boys bathroom to talk to a boy she had a crush on. She said the boy wanted sex, and her daughter complied — then word got out.
“She did not sleep with 25 boys in the bathroom,” Estrem stated. “There was only a handful that she did sleep with. In this case, it was more of a spectator sport.”
It lasted an hour and ended because the students involved had somewhere else to be. Images and videos of the sex acts ended up on social media, prompting the Lee County’s Sheriff’s Office to investigate.
“She has been in an environment where she has been told to behave a certain way, and there were severe consequences if she didn’t,” said Estrem.
“They are usually stuck in slavery until someone busts it up,” said Nicole Waid, a former chief assistant U.S. attorney based in Fort Myers.
“You’re talking … these young girls having sex 30 to 40 times a day with different customers,” she said.
Some abduct their victims, others are lured using the Internet, but what they all have in common is vulnerability.
“Fourteen to 16, the age because they feel isolated from school, isolated from parents, that the world’s against them,” said Waid. “It’s truly one of the most horrific crimes, you are selling young girls, and young boys for sex.”
The pimps are targeting runaways, outliers and those with low self-esteem.
“They’ve done it before, they know exactly what they are saying, the words to say, they know what this kid needs to feel like, ‘Oh I’m on your side,’ and then to lure them into some situation,” said Waid.
And once in, it’s very hard to get out.
“They are highly complex rings. They are traveling and trafficking these girls from Southwest Florida to Atlanta to up to New York City to Boston and back,” said Waid. “It was such an issue that we started a human trafficking task force to educate law enforcement and the community and prosecutors.”
The biggest misconception is that it’s not an illegal immigrant problem, but it’s actually a domestic one.
“What I don’t think people really understand … it happens everywhere. It could be your neighbor or a girl in your English class,” said Waid.
The girl’s mom has pulled her out of school. She is trying to protect her from the rumors, comments and video swirling around the Internet right now.
“What happens is not to go straight to shaming and sharing this, but find out … facts, what happened, why did she do this, who else was involved and what was their role. She needs to be prayed for and encouraged, not degraded and discouraged,” said Estrem.
Waid stated that people could be charged with a crime for sharing the video.