Alex Beall, special to WTOP.com
WASHINGTON – Tina Frundt throws her head back with a loud, wild laugh, tossing her dreadlocks. She holds up her left hand, as if to display her engagement ring, but instead shows off a tattoo around her fourth finger bearing her fiance’s name, Darnell. Frundt’s boisterous nature doesn’t match the bare white walls of her office.
“It’s a very selfish thing to focus on my story and on the kids’ story because then that means I’m not focusing on how to help them,” says Frundt, 39, founder of Courtney’s House in D.C. “Everything I do at Courtney’s House is not really for the people who don’t understand trafficking; it’s really for the kids.”
Frundt started Courtney’s House in 2008 to help boys and girls between ages 12 and 21 who are forced into sex trafficking in the United States. There are currently about 300,000 children trafficked in the U.S. each year, Frundt says.
The organization is a long-term service program that offers children mentors, tutoring programs and survivor hotline. Volunteers also head out to shopping malls and scour the streets looking for kids who need help.
The children visit the drop-in center, but are still able to live at home. Frundt says the transition is apparent from when they first arrive to when they get counseling.
“I like to call them my angry butterflies — how angry they used to be and how that is kind of released out,” she says.
Frundt, a survivor of sex trafficking, gives speeches on the issue, helps in the center, trains law enforcement and sets up services for victims across the country. She is currently trying to push the passage of the Asset Forfeiture for Human Trafficking and Related Offenses Bill in Maryland, which would require a convicted trafficker to allocate money he or she earned from a child toward the child’s victim services.
Frundt explains that children under age 18 who get arrested and charged for prostitution don’t receive any funding from the state for counseling, and if they need to seek services, it must come out of their pocket.
“The state doesn’t pay for victim services for children who are sex trafficked — there’s no money for it,” Frundt says.
While living in Chicago as a child, Frundt entered the foster care system. She became a victim of sex trafficking when she was 9 years old, after being sexually abused within the foster system. A family adopted Frundt when she was 12, but she was forced to enter the sex trafficking life again at 13 when she met a man 15 years her senior.
Frundt says the man pretended to be her boyfriend and seemed to care about her.
“That’s really the way to get girls and boys involved, is tricking them that you care,” she says.
Six months into their relationship, Frundt’s pimp convinced her to go to Cleveland, Ohio with him where she and three other girls were told they must “work” and bring $500 back each night. The first evening away from home, Frundt says the pimp’s friends raped her.