Fifteen-year-old C.G. was hanging out with friends in Tampa‘s popular Ybor City when she met a man, several years her senior, who offered her a ride home.
FBI agents say C.G. accepted the ride, but Weylin Rodriguez didn’t take her to her house. Instead, he headed to Orlando with big plans for the girl: He was going to force her to become a prostitute.
Authorities say that like C.G., teenage girls across the country are forced into the sex industry. Sometimes, they end up in Central Florida because of the area’s conventions and special events, which make it a lucrative region.
While Orange Blossom Trail is notorious for prostitution, law-enforcement and child-welfare officials say they also encounter teenage trafficking victims in the International Drive and Kirkman Road areas.
Agents say Rodriguez picked up three other girls on the way from Tampa to Orlando with C.G. and took them all to the Knights Inn on Orange Blossom Trail.
Rodriguez took C.G.’s cellphone and belongings and told her if she “made enough money” he would take her home. Rodriguez wanted C.G. to work as a prostitute. She refused.
The next day, Rodriguez moved C.G. and several other girls to the nearby Safar Inn.
There, one of Rodriguez’s prostitutes and enforcers — Pria Gunn — slid furniture against the motel-room door so the girls couldn’t leave, agents say. Rodriguez pulled phone cables out of the walls. C.G. wasn’t even allowed to go to the bathroom by herself.
Rodriguez told C.G. she had to work the strip that night. When she began crying, Rodriguez told her to shut up or he would hit her. C.G. didn’t fight Rodriguez that time.
The FBI estimates 293,000 children are at risk of becoming victims of sexual exploitation in America.
Statewide, the Department of Children and Families has roughly 100 children in foster care who have been identified as victims of sex trafficking, said agency spokeswoman Carrie Hoeppner.
While the national average age of a child involved in prostitution is 12 to 13, in Florida it is 10 to 11 years old, Hoeppner said. The youngest victim local DCF officials could recall: an 8-year-old from Central Florida.
Authorities say the majority of children being prostituted across the country are runaways. They’re a prime target for pimps and recruiters who know the girls often don’t have safe or healthy homes to return to. Malls and bus stops are prime recruiting areas.
In many instances, pimps take time to groom their would-be prostitutes and gain their trust. In some cases, they lead the girls into believing they’re in a romantic relationship.
“They lure these girls in. They will shower them with gifts. They will dine them. They will build up a trusting relationship,” said Sue Aboul-Hosn, a missing-child and human-trafficking specialist with DCF. “Then they turn. Then, it’s payback time.”
FBI agents reported in that in April 2011, several months after Rodriguez brought C.G. to Orlando, he told an 18-year-old woman he could help her become a model.
Rodriguez took B.W. to an apartment, where she met Gunn.Rodriguez and Gunn took pictures of the woman and posted them online so they could recruit clients, agents say.
During the next two to three weeks, B.W. was forced to prostitute, agents said. When she refused to have sex with a man, Rodriguez beat her.
Federal prosecutors filed sex-trafficking charges against Rodriguez, Gunn and a co-defendant. Gunn, 20, pleaded guilty last month in Tampa federal court. Rodriguez, now 28, is awaiting trial. He has prior arrests for second-degree murder and an indecent liberties with a minor conviction out of North Carolina, making him a sex offender.
Professionals at Orange County’s Children’s Advocacy Center — where law-enforcement, DCF workers, doctors and nurses jointly investigate the area’s worst child-abuse cases — encounter local sex-trafficking victims.
Their goal is to help the children and prevent re-victimization.
Many of the teens who have been trafficked don’t see themselves as victims and won’t cooperate with staff. Some teens have tried to recruit other children in foster care to come work for their pimp. And the teens often return to their pimp, even after being offered help.
“Many of them do want to get away from it, but they’re fearful,” said Michael Hardman, assistant program manager for the Orange County Children’s Advocacy Center.
It is not known publicly what became of C.G., B.W. or the other alleged victims of Rodriguez and Gunn.
Court records show that when C.G. was ordered to prostitute a night in December 2010, a man pulled up and started talking to the teenager as she stood off the road.
She got in his car and agents say the man “instantly” knew something was wrong. He inquired and the teen told him what happened.
The man allowed C.G. to call her mother, and they arranged to meet her at an Apopka gas station.
Source: Orlando Sentinel, Human Trafficking News Daily