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Jul 15, 2017

No place to run

Co-produced with PRX Logo

In Texas, the foster care system is failing the vulnerable children it’s meant to protect, leaving many without a safe place to live. Foster children often end up on the streets or in jail, which is one of the few places where they can receive treatment services. In this episode, we look into the crisis in foster care and efforts to fix it.  

Jean grew up in a home unfit for a child. Her mother struggled with drug addiction, and her father was abusive. Eventually, the state of Texas stepped in and put Jean in foster care. She was hopeful that her life would change for the better, but it didn’t. Jean ended up in more danger than she faced at home. Through Jean’s story, the Texas Tribune’s Edgar Walters exposes the problems with the state’s child welfare system and why efforts to reform it have gone nowhere. Kids by the thousands are adrift in Texas’ foster care system, and they often end up on the street where sex traffickers exploit them.

Many young victims of sex trafficking in Texas get trapped in a cycle. They’re miserable in foster care so they run away to the streets, where they sell sex to survive. Then they run from that dangerous situation back to foster care. Many of them eventually have run-ins with law enforcement and end up in jail. Ironically, this is one of the few places where the state provides treatment programs aimed at helping kids who’ve been trafficked. The Texas Tribune’s Neena Satija introduces us to a former sex worker who is helping young women change the trajectory of their lives from behind bars.

Finally, we visit Minnesota, where police are taking a different approach to fighting sex trafficking. Instead of treating young prostitutes as criminals, they’re treating them as victims. With help from our partners at APM Reports, we meet a police officer and a young woman he arrested. Through a series of conversations with her, he was able to develop a method for getting exploited kids off the streets – and keeping them off.  

Credits

Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Mary and Steven Swig.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.

 

  Section 1 of 5          [00:00:00 - 00:10:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Al: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX this is Reveal. I'm Al [inaudible 00:00:07] Reporter Edgar Walters spent a good part of last year trying to reach a woman named Jean Hall.
Edgar Walters: I have been trying to reach Jean. I think I understand she may be in Paris, Texas these days.
Speaker 3: Yeah, she was. Her Facebook, she connected to me through Facebook, but now it's been probably, I want to say six months or more since I've seen her on Facebook.
Al: He tried her friends. He tried her uncle. Finally, he got in touch with her lawyer.
Edgar Walters: So did you end up meeting with Jean Hall?
Speaker 4: Yes I did. I told her that you had called.
Edgar Walters: Okay.
Speaker 4: And gave her your information.
Al: Edgar was working on a story about the child welfare system in Texas and he found Jean's story buried in thousands of pages of court documents. He wanted to talk to her in person about what's she been through.
Edgar Walters: Gaging from her reactions it seemed like she was interested in talking?
Speaker 4: It was hard to say.
Edgar Walters: Jean's a pretty damaged young woman.
Al: Finally, after four months Edgar finds out Jean is living with her mom in a trailer park, and it turns out they do live right on the edge of Paris, Texas. A sleepy rural town near the border with Oklahoma. To Edgar's surprise, Jean invites him to come visit.
Jean Hall: I was telling my mom because at first I wasn't call him back.
Al: Jean's got pale skin and freckles, she's slender and so small, she almost disappears into the big blue armchair in her living room. For months, she's been afraid to talk, but now that she and Edgar are face to face she seems ready to open up.
Jean Hall: I was in there telling my mom, I'm 21 years old and I still to this day, everything just gets piled back up, and piled back up, and piled back up.
Al: Everything that Jean's been through comes back to her traumatic childhood and a child welfare system that failed to help her. It's a difficult story to hear and not appropriate for all listeners. But Jean's still trying to be positive, she shows Edgar her tattoos.
Jean Hall: I have this on my ankle. It's cherry hearts. One for each one of my kids. Then I have my daughter's name on my back.
Al: She's planning on getting another tattoo of the word 'love.'
Jean Hall: Love just represents everything that I've been through and I still have the heart of gold.
Al: The state has been a part of Jean's life for almost ten years, but she sees her time here in foster care as especially damaging. Across the country there are hundreds of thousands of kids adrift in foster care. And Texas has especially big problems. Every week more than 20 kids runaway from foster care here. A lot of them end up on the street and find themselves forced to sell sex to survive. Our partners at the Texas Tribune have been investigating why so many foster kids end up being exploited by traffickers and how the child welfare system fails kids like Jean.
Jean Hall: You're not protecting me. You're not protecting my family. Child protective services, they're not there for the children. They damage us more than they help us.
Al: Edgar Walters of the Texas Tribune picks up Jean's story.
Edgar Walters: Jean rocks slowly back and forth in her chair as she opens up. She smokes a cigarette and gets up every few minutes to shoo away one of her cats. Her mom mostly stays in the other room except to check in on her a couple of times.
Jean Hall: Love you Momma.
Speaker 6: Love you too baby.
Edgar Walters: Even as our conversation takes a dark turn, Jean stays upbeat. She laughs a lot during our interview, but that abruptly changes when I bring up one thing, her dad.
Jean Hall: My dad, we were close. He drove a school bus for the school that I went to. I rode the school bus to school with him. I rode the school bus home with him.
Edgar Walters: Jean's parents were separated and she'd lived with her mom when she was young, but her mom struggled with drug addiction, so Jean moved in with her dad when she was nine. No one ever imagined what would happen next. Her father pulled her out of school and over the next five years he raped her repeatedly. Eventually he got her pregnant.
Jean Hall: And so I ...
Edgar Walters: It's hard for Jean to talk about.
Jean Hall: Oh I lost my train of thought.
Nina: I know [crosstalk 00:04:55]
Edgar Walters: My colleague Nina [inaudible 00:04:56] tries to apologize for bringing back all those memories, but it's Jean who reassures us.
Jean Hall: No, you're fine. You're fine. It's okay.
Edgar Walters: Jean gave birth to a baby girl in July 2009. She was 13. Child Protective Services, or CPS came to investigate her pregnancy a few times but Jean says whenever they questioned her, her dad was close by. She was too afraid to say anything. It took a year before she got the courage to go to the police. They immediately called CPS and Jean and her daughter Bridget were placed in a foster home together.
Jean Hall: I wanted to think that CPS was actually going to be there for me and do something good for me and they didn't.
Edgar Walters: I should explain something here. Texas handles foster care differently than other state in the country by splitting kids into two categories. One is for temporary care. Those kids will probably go back to their families or be adopted. They get a lawyer, a special advocate and regular hearings in front of a judge. Jean was in a different category called permanent managing conservatorship or PMC. They key word is permanent.
Jean Hall: Us PMC girls or PMC kids period, we're there till we turn 18 and it was like CPS didn't want to, they didn't want to make it any better for us or they didn't want to make us feel like we were at home.
Edgar Walters: These kids don't go back to their families. Most of them don't get a lawyer or advocate and oftentimes they bounce between at least five different placements in foster care. In just two years, Jean and Bridget stayed with three foster families. Then they were moved to a short term shelter and after that, to a group home with about a dozen other kids.
Alecia Fry: You read those children's files and you just cannot believe that they are still standing on this earth after what they've experienced.
Edgar Walters: That's Alecia Fry who runs the group home where Jean stayed. She remembers Jean's struggles and what pushed her over the edge. We'll never know the full story, but while Jean was in foster care, CPS decided to take her daughter Bridget away from her.
Jean Hall: I began to have suicidal thoughts.
Edgar Walters: Jean felt like CPS had failed her. She remembered how her dad had stopped her from reporting him for years through manipulation and threats.
Jean Hall: My dad used to tell me, yeah you can go tell what's going on, but CPS is going to take you. They're going to take your daughter from you and exactly what my father told me they would do, they did.
Edgar Walters: When Jean lost her daughter, whatever progress she might have made at Johnathan's Place disappeared and Alecia knew what could happen next.
Alecia Fry: You were trying to instill in these girls that they're amazing and that they're strong and they can do anything and I know that if we don't do it, then I'm going to lose these girls to the street.
Edgar Walters: That's what happened to Jean. Jean and another foster kid decided to run. A friend had told them they could go stay with this woman named Jasmine. Jasmine had a place on the other side of town where people with nowhere to go could just hang out. One night Jean stuffed her backpack with her nicest things. In the morning she got dropped off at school, but she didn't go to class. Instead, she walked down the road to this bus stop on Waterhouse Road. She was clutching a piece of paper with Jasmine's address. Jean took the city bus, two different trains, and then another city bus to a rough neighborhood in southeast Dallas. She arrived at a duplex with a red door. After gathering her courage, she knocked.
Jasmine: So the first girl came was Jean.
Edgar Walters: That's Jasmine Johnson. I got the chance to interview her a few months ago and she called Jean the first girl because another girl showed up later day. She was a foster kid too.
Jasmine: I let, I let everybody come to my house. It was a open house, you know what I'm saying? If you didn't have nowhere to go, I let you stay at my house on Gonzales Street. We called it G Street.
Edgar Walters: Jasmine let Jean have fun on Gonzales Street. Jean got a new look. She dyed her hair so no one would recognize her. She got her nails done and she got new clothes, short dresses and high heels, but Jean couldn't stay at Jasmine's house for free. She'd have to pay rent.
  Section 1 of 5          [00:00:00 - 00:10:04]
  Section 2 of 5          [00:10:00 - 00:20:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Speaker 1: Jean couldn't stay at Jasmine's house for free. She'd have to pay rent, $60 a night. Jasmine said the girls that stayed with her made their money at strip clubs all over Dallas.
Jasmine: I asked them, did they have IDs so I could put them into strip club with my girls or whatever, so they could have a job or something. You can't just be laying up at my house and not make no money.
Speaker 1: Jean didn't have an ID, she was only 15. She says Jasmine told her she had only one other choice, selling sex.
Before I tell you what happened next, I want to back up for a second because this might seem crazy. Imagine you're a teenage runaway hundreds of miles from home. You're hungry and you need a place to sleep, then a stranger offers you those things. It sounds like they're trying to help, but they exploit you instead. Like Jean, you end up doing things you'd never imagine.
At the state capital in Austin, lawmakers are starting to pay attention.
Speaker 3: All right. Miss Chairman and members, we have a joint charge-
Speaker 1: State representatives even held a hearing about it last year.
Speaker 3: To study and evaluate the practice of youth being recruited into human trafficking, specifically evaluate the scope of the pipeline of potential victims from foster care.
Speaker 1: If you didn't catch what that lawmaker said, it was the pipeline of potential victims from foster care. In other words, lawmakers wanted to study why kids in the state's foster care system end up exploited by pimps.
Speaker 3: Let's start with invited testimony. State your name for the record and proceed.
Angela Goodwin: Thank you. My name is Angela Goodwin and I am the Director of Investigations at Child Protective Services.
Speaker 1: Angela Goodwin explained to lawmakers that most sex trafficking victims have been sexually abused, and a lot of them have had contact with the child welfare system. In other words, they're kids like Jean. She also said when kids run away, they're often approached by a pimp almost immediately, usually within 48 hours.
Angela Goodwin: Why is that important to the foster care system? We now know through these statistics coming in that when a child runs from our care, we have to look for them right away, immediately.
Speaker 1: Texas doesn't even come close to finding missing foster kids that quickly. Last year it took an average of six weeks to find them. Hundreds of foster kids who ran away weren't found. I asked Goodwin about this: Is six weeks acceptable? What would be acceptable?
Angela Goodwin: Right away is acceptable. Based on the statistic that I gave you, when you're getting past 48 hours it's a very dangerous time.
Speaker 1: Goodwin told us CPS is working more aggressively to find runaways. The agency couldn't even say how many missing foster kids actually got reported to the proper authorities last year.
In Jean's case, social workers at her group home did call the police as soon as they realized she was missing that day. By then she's already been taking in by a pimp, Jasmine Johnson.
Jean: Jasmine, she didn't care. She just pretty much, "You're going to do this. That's what you're going to do in order to stay here." CPS treating us the way that they treated us, I was willing to do whatever I needed to do to stay away.
Speaker 1: Jean quickly developed a routine on Gonzales Street. She wasn't Jean anymore, Jasmine had given her a new name, Bunny. Every day when it started to get dark, she would head outside in her new clothes. She'd slowly walk through the neighborhood, past some apartments and a basketball court, toward the mini mart on the corner.
Jean: The street that Gonzales is off of, I'd walk from there back towards the right. I'd just pretty much back and forth, back and forth.
Speaker 1: Sometimes if a John stopped his car on the street corner, the transaction happened right there. Other times the client drove her back to his place. It was $100 for an hour and $60 for 30 minutes.
Jean had sex with a few different men, but she got scared. She remembers one guy who brought her back to his apartment. After a few minutes, he was really creeping her out, she thought she was in danger.
Jean: I ended up telling him I was going to the bathroom and left, and walked all the way back to the house. "I'm getting out of here, I don't like this." It started getting real scary for me.
Speaker 1: Jean decided she didn't want to stay at Jasmine's house anymore. Now 16 years old, she packed up her things and went to stay with an ex-boyfriend in another part of Dallas. After a couple of nights, his parents kicked her out.
She was walking back to Jasmine's place in the dark when a driver pulled up and offered her a ride. They were just around the corner from Gonzales Street when police pulled over the driver for not using his turn signal. They found Jean in the back seat. She told police what was going on at Jasmine's house and she ended up helping them investigate.
Detective : This is Detective [inaudible 00:15:30], badge number 6132 and Detective McMurray, badge number 4835 with complainant Jean Hall.
Speaker 1: The detectives asked Jean to call Jasmine, who also went by the name Jae. They wanted help collecting evidence.
Jasmine: Hello?
Jean: Hey, is this Jae?
Jasmine: Yes, this is Jae. Who is this?
Jean: Bunny.
Jasmine: Who?
Jean: Bunny.
Jasmine: I don't know you.
Jean: Oh my gosh, Jae, please just talk to me. I haven't done anything, I got caught.
Speaker 1: Jasmine suspected Jean might be working police after she left the house, so she pretended not to know Jean. After officers later raided the house, Jasmine admitted Jean had stayed there. Jasmine was eventually convicted of trafficking a minor for sex.
As for Jean, she was sent back to foster care and almost immediately ran away again. Then she was sent to an institution for troubled foster kids, but she ran away once more. Jean felt completely isolated, like no one could understand what she was going through. She was amazed when we told her children's advocates believe there are thousands of other kids with stories like hers.
In fact, lawyers filed a lawsuit on behalf of all 12,000 kids in long-term foster care. They said the system had routinely violated children's civil rights. In 2015, a federal judge agreed.
Speaker 7: Federal Judge Janis Graham Jack ruled the state's foster care system unconstitutional, stating in her scathing opinion, the system is broken and has been for decades. Children almost uniformly leave state custody more damaged than when they entered.
Speaker 1: The lead plaintiff in that lawsuit has a story a lot like Jean's. She was a teenage foster kid who ran away from a group home and ended up on the street. A pimp found her and sold her for sex.
The judge wrote these stories are typical of the foster care system in Texas and she's ordered sweeping reforms. She said the state needs to give long-term foster kids a lot more support. That includes a lawyer and an advocate for each of them. The question is, do Texas lawmakers want to pay?
Senator Nelson: Good morning members. The finance committee will come to order, clerk please call the roll.
Clerk: Senator Nelson.
Senator Nelson: Here.
Speaker 1: That's Jane Nelson, a republican state senator with the most power over the Texas budget. A few months ago, she called in the head of the Texas Child Welfare Agency for a hearing, his name is Hank Whitman. He asked lawmakers for more than a billion dollars to make improvements. That would increase his budget by more than 25%.
Hank Whitman: This is a problem that's been going on for three decades. If we keep delaying, we'll never get there.
Speaker 1: He pointed out that other states spend more. Texas pays group homes up to $260 a day to care for troubled kids, California and Florida pay almost twice that. Whitman also wanted more money to hire child abuse investigators because Texas fails to check on hundreds of kids each day who may be in immediate danger.
Hank Whitman: We have to spend the funding now Senator, otherwise these children will end up in the criminal justice system and they're there for life.
Senator Nelson: I cannot say this strongly enough-
Speaker 1: Senator Jane Nelson cuts him off.
Senator Nelson: We want to see results. Hear me, we don't have time for any more of this other stuff. Your agency gets a total of $3.8 billion.
Speaker 1: Hank Whitman said that's not enough to do the job.
Hank Whitman: It's interesting, we either pay now or we pay later before somebody loses their life.
Speaker 1: I wanted to talk to Senator Jane Nelson about funding for child welfare in Texas but she declined my request for an interview, so did Texas governor Greg Abbott. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did agree to an interview if we flew hundreds of miles to meet him at a public event. We sent our political reporter, Patrick Svitek.
Patrick Svitek: Hey, how are you doing? Good to see you again. Thanks for making a little time for us, appreciate it.
Speaker 1: Patrick asked Paxton about the importance of funding foster care in Texas and what that means for fighting sex trafficking. 
  Section 2 of 5          [00:10:00 - 00:20:04]
  Section 3 of 5          [00:20:00 - 00:30:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Edgar Walters: ... Care in Texas and what that means for fighting sex trafficking.
Ken Paxton: I'm in an interesting spot, I don't get to decide policy. What I do is I enforce whatever the legislature gives me authority to do. I would love for more to be done with human trafficking.
Speaker 3: Specifically with funding or do you just mean in general?
Ken Paxton: Just in general, everything. It's devastating to our state, to our community. It's so sad, certainly the more we can do to save these, especially young woman, the better.
Edgar Walters: Saving these young women is exactly what that lawsuit against Texas foster care was meant to do. After a judge ordered the state to make sweeping reforms, Ken Paxton fought them. He's delayed an appealed the judge's directions again and again. He says as the state's top lawyer he has a responsibility to fight lawsuits.
Paxton says it's not his job to fix foster care. Instead he's focusing ongoing after criminals, the pimps who exploit kids. Under his leadership, Texas has convicted more and more every year. Police on the ground say that approach only goes so far.
Michael M.: You've got to arrest an awful lot of people to have a dent on that.
Edgar Walters: That's detective Michael McMurray. He's been sending pimps to prison for more than a decade and he worked on Jean's case. He thinks kids will continue to be exploited as long as the foster care system remains broken.
Michael M.: The McMurray theory of fixing this problem was going to be, we'll put all these pimps, all these traffickers in prison and the word will get out. People won't be doing this anymore because they'll be too afraid to go to prison, and it will solve the problem. The other part of that, finding a place to put the kids, treating the kids, getting mental health services. It's not there and the McMurray theory is not working out too well.
Edgar Walters: The McMurray theory didn't work out well for Jean either. After police recovered her from Jasmine's house and she ran away from her foster home again, the state eventually agreed to let her live with her mom. She was done with foster care.
Jean testified in her pimp's trial. Jasmine Johnson was convicted of trafficking a minor for sex and sent to prison for 25 years. The whole experience made Jean feel even more like a victim.
Jean: It was, "Here you go, here's your subpoena. We're going to need you to come testify." I said, "Well, I'm not going." "Well, if you don't go you're going to jail." "Okay, whatever. Thanks y'all." So much for the victims, right?
Edgar Walters: Jean wishes she'd gotten help finishing school and finding a job. She had no way to support herself. Jean had another child, a son, but she also got into drugs. The last time we saw her, she was in the Lamar County Courthouse in Paris, Texas.
Neena and I went to meet her at her 9 am hearing. When we get into the court room, we see Jean sitting on the other side, her head in her hands. She's been charged with possession of methamphetamines. The hearing only lasts a couple of minutes, we aren't allowed to record.
Suddenly, Jean runs out of the courtroom so we follow her. When she sees us, she gives us each a big long hug.
Neena Satija: Hey Jean, what happened?
Jean: They said they're going to let me stay out until the 21st.
Edgar Walters: Through her tears, Jean tells us she's going to plead guilty to her charges and spend at least six months in a state jail with a rehab program.
Jean: It's a good program from what everybody's told me. It's just being away from my babies.
Edgar Walters: She thinks rehab would really help her, but it's hours away. Jean's already lost her daughter and she doesn't want to be away from her son. His birthday is in a couple of days, so she asks if she can go to jail after that. The prosecutors agree.
We walk out of the Paris, Texas Courthouse into the pouring rain. All of a sudden, Jean runs out into the middle of the street smiling, her arms outstretched. It seems like she's trying to take advantage of these last moments of freedom. Those last words, "I hate this town."
Al Letson: That story from the Texas Tribune's Edgar Walters and Neena Satija. Jean's been in jail now for a couple of months and she's not allowed to take phone calls or see visitors yet. It turns out, a lot of sex trafficking victims in Texas can only get the help they need in jail.
When we come back, we'll go behind prison walls to meet a woman who's helping girls like Jean piece their lives back together. That's next on Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting PRX.
Byard Duncan: Hey listeners, Byard Duncan here, Reveal's engagement reporter. Last week we told you about Citizen Sleuth, a collaboration we're doing with The Center for Public Integrity. We've turned thousands of pages of Trump appointees' financial disclosures into a public database. We've asked for your help to understand them.
Thanks to you, stories are rolling in. Already we've learned that Steve Bannon, Trump's top advisor, failed to list creditors for four of his mortgages, an oversight of more than $2 million. Government officials like Bannon have to list their creditors to make sure they're not getting special treatment or making a private profit that could potentially influence their decisions on policy.
We're just getting started. You can help us dig up more information, just head over to publicintegrity.org/citizensleuth and search through the database for yourself. Be part of this important reporting project and let us know if you have any leads. Again, that's publicintegrity.org/citizensleuth. Thanks.
Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.
Jean Hall's ordeal with the broken foster care system in Texas is not an isolated case, it happens all the time. A federal judge has declared the system inhumane and unconstitutional. There aren't enough beds for foster kids partly because it's so underfunded. That's one reason foster care in Texas has become a pipeline to sexual exploitation.
Take Linea, we're using her middle name to protect her privacy. Her story is not appropriate for all listeners. Linea became a foster kid at 13 and spent almost a year at an institution for troubled teens. No foster family would take her in.
Linea: I was just tired of being there. I had finished the program, nobody else would accept me so I was like, "I don't want to be here anymore." I ran away.
Al Letson: Linea left for school one day, but instead of going to class she just started walking down the street, just like Jean did when she ran away. Within minutes ...
Linea: I actually met a guy and he told me, "I love you, I care for you. I'm going to be there for you. If you ever need anything just let me know." I told him I was a runaway, I didn't have anywhere to go.
Al Letson: The guy told Linea she could stay with him if she brought in some money. Over the next three years, at least three different men trafficked Linea for sex. Every few months she would go back to foster care, sometimes on her own or police might bring her back. Then she'd run away again.
Only a few months ago she finally landed in a place she feels safe, she starts believing she can move forward.
Linea: I don't want to run the streets. I really want to finish school, I'm very smart. I want to go to college, I want to go to Prairie View A&M.
Kathy Griffin: Tell them what you want to study.
Linea: I want to study forensic investigations.
Al Letson: That woman who jumped in is Kathy Griffin, no, not the comedian. This Kathy is an advocate who works with sex trafficking victims. Kathy changed everything for Linea.
Linea: She started talking to the girls about how we have to change, nobody can make us change. You can sit in the program and act like you're going to change, for what? You've got to want to change, it's got to come from the inside.
Kathy Griffin: When you get outside-
Linea: That's where the test starts. The test starts when you walk outside and this is my test.
Al Letson: Linea's saying all this at a place where she's met other young women who share her struggles, where men can no longer prey on her, where she's found a mentor. There's just one problem, that place is the Harris County Jail in Houston, Texas.
Neena Satija, based at the Texas Tribune, picks up the story from here.
Neena Satija: The Harris County Jail is the third largest in the country. It's got about 10,000 inmates at any given time, like a little village right in the center of downtown Houston.
You said the fourth floors are were all the women are?
Speaker 11: Yes, where the women hide.
Neena Satija: When I ...

 

  Section 3 of 5          [00:20:00 - 00:30:04]
  Section 4 of 5          [00:30:00 - 00:40:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Speaker 1: Women are ...
Speaker 6: Yes ... When women ... Hi, how are you?
Speaker 1: When I get a tour of the jail, Lynnae's been behind bars for almost four months. She shares a room called a pod with two dozen other women. She sleeps on a metal bunk bed and wears an oversized jumpsuit. Lynnae ended up here because one day last August she offered a man oral sex in exchange for money. He turned out to be an undercover police officer and he arrested her for prostitution. She was only 17, which is the age that people are considered adults under Texas criminal law, so she went to jail.
When we peek into Lynnae's pod, you can tell she's the baby of the group. Several women are surrounding her, braiding her hair into this elegant crown on the top of her head. No one wants kids like Lynnae in jail, especially not child advocates. But, police and prosecutors say they don't trust the foster care system to protect kids who've been trafficked. So police look for a way to charge them with something. In jail, Lynnae can't run, her pimp can't get to her and she can meet mentors, like Kathy.
Lynnae: She's motivated me ... At first I wanted to leave the program. I was like, "This isn't for me. I don't wanna change." When I met Ms. Kathy, it changed my whole prospective about the program. If she could do it, I could do it.
Speaker 1: If she could do it, I could do it. One reason Kathy connects so quickly with kids like Lynnae is she's been through some of the same stuff. For decades, her life was unstable, ruled by a cocaine addiction.
Kathy: I was a theater major. Then I went on the Cold Blooded Tour with Rick James in '83 where my serious addiction started because everybody in the industry got high. And then when the lights and the cameras were all gone and the tours, I still had an addiction that had to be met and fed. So it took me from Beverly Hills to behind the trash dumpster.
Speaker 1: You can find Kathy's mug shots online. She looks disoriented and her clothes are rumpled. Now more than 10 years later, she's always stylishly dressed, wearing super high heels. She still has a scratchy voice. She says it's from smoking thousands of dollars worth of dope a month for more than two decades, paid for mostly by selling sex.
Kathy: I rock-stituted.
Speaker 1: Rock-stituted? What does that mean?
Kathy: That means if they didn't have money, they could exchange sexual favors for drugs.
Speaker 1: Okay.
Kathy: I've done everything from high-end escorts, being a kept woman, to prostitution, rock-stitution. Only thing I didn't do was strip.
Speaker 1: Eventually, Kathy got clean. She was one of the first participants in a drug diversion court in Houston. Now she runs programs for women who've been involved in prostitution. They're all different ages and she comes across foster kids, or former foster kids a lot.
Speaker 4: One, two, three. (singing) This is our roadway to freedom, we gonna say it out loud. We're on a new path to recovery, there's no stopping us now.
Speaker 1: One of Kathy's programs is called "Roadway to Freedom." I got to see it in action recently at a women's prison, in Dayton, Texas. There's about 100 women singing here in white jumpsuits. When Kathy starts speaking ...
Kathy: And y'all look so purty ...
Speaker 1: Everyone just lights up.
Kathy: Y'all got y'all little makeup on. Got lipstick on. Y'all got Crayola and colored pencils on.
Speaker 1: The Crayola and colored pencils line isn't a joke. Women in prison don't have makeup, so that's what some of them use to put on eyeliner and eyeshadow. Kathy tells me a lot of women in here are sex trafficking victims. And a lot of them were let down by the child welfare system.
Kathy: The foster care system is so severely broken. Just about everybody in here that went to foster care has had sexual abuse and they were running away from it.
Speaker 1: Lynnae fits that profile. She was adopted at a young age and says her adoptive parents abused her physically and sexually. She used to run away from home all the time. So later on when she wasn't getting help in foster care, it made sense to her to run again, even if it meant selling sex instead. Kathy understands that and she tells Lynnae ...
Kathy: Does it make you sad to think sometimes that your childhood was stolen from you?
Lynnae: It does and I've learned to accept the fact that I can't get it ... I can't take what happened back. But I can only move forward.
Kathy: You have stayed focused from the time that I brought you to the program. And that's very rare ... I want you all to know that's very rare for somebody as young as she is to stay as disciplined.
Speaker 1: There's an irony to what Kathy's saying right now because she knows the only reason she was able to find Lynnae and become her mentor is because Lynnae's been locked up in jail for four months.
Kathy: When you come into jail it's like starting over brand new, for you especially at your age.
Speaker 1: But as Kathy and Lynnae are talking, Lynnae's about to get released from jail. And because Lynnae's only 17, she's still a foster kid. She has to go back into state custody first. The problem is there isn't a bed available for her. Dozens of foster kids in Texas face this situation each month. Because there's no room for them in a foster home, they have to sleep in a hotel or in a case worker's office. In Lynnae's case, she'll have to sleep in a child welfare office in Houston. The kids who stay there all have to sleep on cots in this one big room that can fit maybe 20 at a time.
Why would that happen?
Angela Goodwin: We're working with what we have. I'm not trying to be flip, I don't know another way to put that.
Speaker 1: That's Angela Goodwin, a top official at the Texas Child Welfare Agency. She says, "The state can't create more beds for foster kids, that's up to the private sector." Things are even worst for kids who've been sexually exploited.
Angela Goodwin: We have a very limited of specialized beds for human trafficking victims. We have about 20 available north of Houston in place called Freedom Place. We have about six in a foster home situation in east Texas. And that's it.
Speaker 1: Kids sleeping in a case worker's office don't get supervised like they would at a real foster home. So it's easier for them to run away. The state wouldn't tell me how many foster kids run away when they live in an office, but I asked the Houston Police Department. In just two months, police say dozens of kids ran away from the office where Lynnae will be staying. Kathy tells Lynnae she hopes she won't run.
Kathy: What's gonna keep you from running from this facility?
Lynnae: Support. I've always had my case worker's support, but I just wanted more support. I just felt like ...
Kathy: You were missing me?
Lynnae: I think so Ms. Kathy, I think I was missing you.
Speaker 1: Kathy's worried that once Lynnae gets out of jail, she won't be able to reach her, so she'll have no way of knowing if Lynnae is safe. Later she tells me there's gotta be a place where Lynnae can get help that isn't jail.
This is the best place for you to reach them, but it's also a place where they're locked up.
Kathy: But what is more important than any of this is we have got to have beds for individuals that are coming out so that we can continue the process and keep things running smoothly because it took 'em a long time to get messed up. We must have beds.
Speaker 1: That aren't in jail.
Kathy: That aren't in jail.
Speaker 1: A few months later I go to see Kathy again. She's a busy woman, so the best way to catch up with her is when she's heading out of one her programs at the prison or the jail. We're in a parking lot, when Kathy gets a phone call. It's from another young girl she's trying to help by convincing her not to run away. To stay put.
Kathy: The street will eat you alive, you feel me. And just keep me informed so I'll be able to still keep up with you and help you. Alright precious. Stop running so much, okay. Be still so somebody can love on you for a while, okay.
Speaker 1: Kathy hangs up the phone and closes her eyes for a second.
Kathy: If they would give me some beds, I could be able to work miracles.
Speaker 1: Even with everything Kathy does to help these young women, there's a lot of forces working against them. Lynnae had promised Kathy she'd called her once she left jail and got to that child welfare office. But Lynnae never called. Instead, she walked out of the office just a few hours after she got there.
I remember you telling her you're one of the more focused people ... Despite being so young, you're one of the more focused people in jail that I've worked with.
Kathy: Mh-hmm.
Speaker 1: It felt that way. So that's why it was just such a bummer when she just took off like that.
Kathy: And see when they're so young and I can't put 'em where the rest of the girls are, they fall through the cracks. And that's the piece I need fixed.
Speaker 1: Yeah.
Kathy: It doesn't do me any good ... At least I plant seeds, but if they live to come back ...
Speaker 1: Right.
Lynnae turned 18 last December, just a few weeks after she walked out of that office. She's still missing and her Facebook page ...
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  Section 5 of 5          [00:40:00 - 00:53:12]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Neena Satija: ... after she walked out of that office. She's still missing and her Facebook page suggests she's still being trafficked, but Kathy isn't giving up hope. She's planning to open a shelter for girls just like Lynnae that can get them help outside of jail. It'll be called Kathy's House.
Al Letson: That story was produced by Reveal's Neena Satija based at the Texas Tribune. Since a version of this story was first published, state law makers have given the Texas Child Welfare Agency an extra 500 million dollars. That's about half of what they asked for. They also created a three million dollar grant program to give child sex trafficking victims services like healthcare and counseling. It's the first time the state has funded a program like this. In Texas, jail was the only place Lynnae could find the help she needed. Other states like Minnesota are doing everything they can to keep sex trafficked kids out of jail by looking at them as victims not criminals. That part of the story when we come back on Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.
Will Evans: Hey folks, Will Evans here. I'm a reporter at Reveal. This year I've been looking into how worker's lives are changing under President Trump. This past week, I found something interesting. Cheryl Stanton is currently Head of the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce. Trump reportedly wants her to lead the national agency that holds employers accountable when they cheat workers. Here's the thing, Stanton has had her own problems paying people who work for her. In fact, she was sued last year for failing to pay her house cleaners. You can find this and other stories like it over on revealnews.org. By the way, are you a worker who's been affected by this administration? If so, I want to hear from you. Write me at wevans@revealnews.org. That's wevans@revealnews.org. Thanks.
Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. Tough subject today. Sex traffickers have been known to trap and exploit children. Once a child is in, it is extremely hard to get them out of that life. Many of these kids are runaways who've been bounced around from foster care, group homes, and state custody. Some end up in drug rehab and mental health treatment centers and often behind bars. This is something our partners at APM Reports looked into. They found that some states, including Minnesota, are taking a different approach. Those states are treating these young people as victims instead of criminals.
Sergeant Snyder: The reason the tape recorder's out is so that I have a record of us talking today. Okay?
Al Letson: That's Sergeant Grant Snyder. He's interviewing a 17 year old runaway.
Sergeant Snyder: Let's just go back and tell me the story about from you guys running from Eau Claire. Tell me what happened.
Bobby Jo Larson: It all started on July Fourth. I was really-
Al Letson: They're in an interview room at a Minneapolis Police Station. It's a small space with no windows, the size of a walk-in closet. They're sitting at a small round table.
Bobby Jo Larson: I've been locked up all the time since I've been 14.
Sergeant Snyder: [inaudible 00:43:32]
Bobby Jo Larson: That's why I'm running. You know?
Al Letson: Bobby Jo Larson ran away from a drug treatment center in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. By the time Snyder found her, she was selling sex. She was posting escort ads on the web and working with a guy she calls E.
Sergeant Snyder: When did you start posting ads when you were with E?
Bobby Jo Larson: I don't really know. I can't remember.
Sergeant Snyder: Like the next day after you met him, a couple of days, do you think?
Bobby Jo Larson: Probably the next day or something, it seems like. I've never really dealt with it.
Sergeant Snyder: He told you he'd never done it before?
Bobby Jo Larson: He told me he's been around prostitutes and stuff, but he told me, "I'm not a pimp, I'm a player."
Sergeant Snyder: Okay. First of all, that's not true. He's been doing it for a long time. Okay? Do you understand?
Bobby Jo Larson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Al Letson: Bobby hasn't slept. She's high on four different drugs and hasn't eaten in days. She does not want to hear Sergeant Snyder trash talk the guy she was with.
Bobby Jo Larson: He didn't force me to do nothing.
Sergeant Snyder: Okay. I understand that. This is something I know a little bit about, so I want you to listen to me. Okay? Any guys that allows a young lady like yourself to be victimized like that, to do degrading things, that speaks to their character. You understand that, right? You know what I'm saying is true, don't you? You said when you're with these guys that it makes you feel ... I've talked to, like I told you, hundreds of women over the years. They all say three things to me. Okay? "I'm only doing this because of the money," "I wish I could do anything else," but they can't because of the money that's involved, and, "It makes me feel ... " How many of those things are accurate for you?
Bobby Jo Larson: Three.
Sergeant Snyder: Exactly.
Al Letson: After that interview, Bobby is sent to a group home two hours north of the Twin Cities. Almost immediately, she runs. This time she ends up in the hands of even more dangerous men. They put an ad for Bobby on Backpage, an online hub for commercial sex. Sergeant Snyder finds her two weeks later, and she's back in the interview room.
Sergeant Snyder: You don't want to be out there doing that ... It's dangerous, you got raped this time, you got a gun put against your head. The world is filled with evil ... and you know that because you've met most of them. Right?
Bobby Jo Larson: Yeah.
Sergeant Snyder: These people aren't your friends. We've told you this before. We are your friends, even though right now you're irritated with me because I'm asking you questions and you-
Bobby Jo Larson: That's how I've always been.
Sergeant Snyder: Okay. [crosstalk 00:45:52] We haven't lied to you. When you run away, we keep looking for you, and we find you, and we bring you back. Okay?
Al Letson: Sergeant Snyder is not going to charge Bobby with a crime. In many places around the country, it's still routine for girls who sell sex to face delinquency hearings, but Snyder doesn't want to punish Bobby.
Sergeant Snyder: I argue that our primary objective has to be that victim and that we're the tool for that victim, not the victim being a tool for us to meet our aims.
Al Letson: The victim he's talking about is Bobby. When Grant Snyder became a cop 20 years ago, he didn't think prostitution was a victimless crime. The victim was the public, the homeowner, the city. He kept winding up in that interview room with women and girls who had awful stories to tell. He began to think there was another victim here even if the girls themselves didn't think so.
Sergeant Snyder: Victims who are now survivors who have come out of the life and have come out of a history of trauma and exploitation have been very patient in helping me to understand exactly what things look like through their eyes.
Al Letson: When he met Bobby, she was traumatized and afraid of the police. This is more of the recording of the first time when Sergeant Snyder brought Bobby to the station.
Bobby Jo Larson: No, I mean, I understand. I'm not doing anything right in the situation.
Sergeant Snyder: Do you know what though? You're a victim for me. Okay? You're a victim because of that. I don't want anybody mistreating you.
Al Letson: Bobby says she had a bad experience with the police before meeting Sergeant Snyder, and that made it hard for her to trust a cop. She talked about that in an interview last year.
Bobby Jo Larson: The officers just threw me up against the wall and kept slamming my head into the wall. That drew the line and I was like, "I'm not going to trust any police officer." Even if you do wear a badge, you have no right to treat someone like that.
Al Letson: The first time Snyder caught Bobby it didn't seem like she was listening, but it turned out she was.
Bobby Jo Larson: The number one thing that I will remember is him saying, "From this day on, you will be protected."
Al Letson: Snyder caught Bobby five times before she stopped running away back to people who would exploit her all over again.
Bobby Jo Larson: I don't know if it was because I was brainwashed that I was finally okay with it. After the first few times, I was like, "This is how I'm going to end up living my life for the rest of my life, and I'm okay with it." I didn't even think twice that I'm a victim.
Al Letson: Eventually, Sergeant Grant reached Bobby. His message got through. She stopped running and she got treatment for drug addiction.
Bobby Jo Larson: You learn not to trust anyone on the street. An office, or a counselor, or anyone can't expect that trust right away. That's going to come with time.
Al Letson: Sergeant Snyder put in the time and was eventually able to gain Bobby's trust. Bobby is grateful to the cop who wouldn't give up.
Bobby Jo Larson: His heart was so big. At that point in my life, that's all I needed, and that's all I was looking for from day one is love and a big heart. I saw that with him. Honestly, I don't know why I opened up, but I did.
Al Letson: Sergeant Snyder uses what he's learned to help others fight sex trafficking. He trains law enforcement and attorneys around the country and is a frequent speaker at events like this on at a suburban high school.
Sergeant Snyder: Victims are incredibly resourceful. Bobby Larson ran away from Eau Claire Academy within a period of one hour. She ran away in an orange jumpsuit that said Eau Claire Academy on the back of it. Within one hour, she'd met a woman who gave her money so that she could buy clothes, she got a phone from somebody, got on a chat line, met a guy she'd never talked to before, and convinced him to drive from St. Paul to Eau Claire to pick her and her friend up and drive them back to Minneapolis. I can't even get my kid to put the dirty dishes in the sink. Okay? They accomplished all that in an hour.
Al Letson: When we checked in with Bobby Jo Larson last year, she'd been out of prostitution and drug-free for around two years. She'd done a lot of thinking about what had made her so vulnerable to being trafficked. Partly, it was that she wanted to get high and because she wanted to get out of group homes and treatment center, but she wanted something else too.
Bobby Jo Larson: In a way, I felt really beautiful that all these guys are paying to get services from me, or the pimps, I thought at the time, they loved me. Even though I've always had a really good loving family, I was adopted at a young age so that was something I also struggled with. Why did my parents give up on me and not love me, my biological parents? It seemed like my adoptive family, it wasn't enough.
Al Letson: Pimps prey on these insecurities, showering their victims with phony love. The attention along with the grip of drug addiction led Bobby back to E a few times. E, whose real name is Roderick Boshay Robinson, eventually plead guilty to promoting prostitution.
Sergeant Snyder: There's a real reticence to place blame where that blame really should lie. It's very visible in human trafficking, because many of the victims that we deal with make bad choices. Simple because you're a 13 year old who ran away from home doesn't mean that you should be victimized by somebody. It doesn't mean you should end up on Backpage. It doesn't mean you should end up in a hotel room, or on Lake Street, or something where people can exploit you commercially.
Al Letson: Other folks in government and law enforcement around the country are beginning to see things the same way as Sergeant Snyder. More than a dozen states have stopped charging minors with prostitution. Bobby Jo Larson is now 22 years old. Last we heard, she and her fiance were living in an apartment above Main Street in a quiet southern Minnesota town. We want to thank Bobby for sharing her story. She hopes it will help others. The original version of Bobby Jo Larson's story was produced by Sasha Aslanian and edited by Catherine Winter of APM Reports. It was updated by Reveal's Michael Schiller.
Neena Satija was our lead producer on today's show with help from Edgar Walters and Morgan Smith. They're based at the Texas Tribune. Our editor was [Stocutel Lanitas 00:52:25]. Our sound design team is the Wonder Twins, my man J Breezy, Mister Jim Briggs, and Claire C-Note Mullen, with help from Katherine Raymondo. Our Head of Studio is Christa Scharfenberg. Amy Pyle is our Editor in Chief. Susanne Reber is our Executive Editor. Our Executive Producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Comorado, Lightning. Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.
Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I'm Al Letson. Remember, there is always more to the story.
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