FORT MYERS, Fla. — A community firestorm erupted after hearing about a 15-year-old girl having sex with boys in the bathroom at a Florida high school.
The county’s sheriff’s office has even become involved after images and videos of the sex acts ended up on social media. A lot of people have commented and shared the story, many casting judgment about the young girl.
Her mother reached out to WBBH, asking the TV station to share her story in hopes of setting the record straight. The mom did not want to appear on camera, but a woman who has worked with the girl served as the family’s spokeswoman.
“I had heard about a lot about the incident through the news. I heard it and thought there are some red flags,” Megan Estrem said. “What’s upsetting about this is this behavior is not uncommon for human trafficking victims.”
Estrem is the founder of Be the Light, an advocacy group for victims of sex slavery. 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,” Estrem said.
The girl was placed into multiple treatment programs; the most recent was eight months. 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,” Estrem said.
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,” Estrem said.
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. There was only a handful that she did sleep with. In this case, it was more of a spectator sport,” Estrem said.
It lasted an hour and ended because the students involved had somewhere else to be.
“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,” Estrem said.
“They are usually stuck in slavery until someone busts it up,” Nicole Waid said.
Waid is a former chief assistant U.S. attorney based in Fort Myers, Fla.
“You’re talking these young girls having sex 30 to 40 times a day with different customers,” Waid 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,” Waid said. “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,” Waid said.
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,” Waid said. “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,” Waid said.
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 there all facts, what happened, why did she do this, who else was involved and what was their role. She needs to be prayed for and encroached, not degraded and discouraged,” Estrem said.
When asked, Waid said people could be charged with a crime for sharing the video.
If you are a victim of human trafficking or suspect human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888.