06272017Headline:

Sex Traffic in DC Explored in Short Film “3 a.m. Girls”

3am GirlsLisa Ling in 3 a.m. Girls

Last week, when I wrote about Tina Frundt and Courtney House helping survivors of sex trafficking heal and get back on their feet, I learned about a documentary called “3 a.m. Girls.”

It’s actually an episode of the series “Our America,” created for the Oprah Winfrey Network and hosted by Lisa Ling. But it’s treated like a free-standing short documentary. It’s about two years old, but I decided I just had to talk about it this week, because it’s powerful.

In 3 a.m. Girls, Lisa Ling talked to Tina Frundt, and they went undercover on the streets of Washington DC to look for missing girls who were being trafficked.

Before they set out, Tina shared a binder she kept, full of faces and information about girls who have gone missing. Tina said she tried to memorize each and every face, so if she saw them walking the street, she’d be able to call the police.

But she also said she didn’t find many of those girls.

“Sometimes they’re found in other cities or states,” Tina said. “Sometimes they’re found dead. Sometimes they’re never found.”

But Tina and Lisa kept their eyes peeled for these girls when they set out at 3 a.m., about six blocks from the White House.

At the time of the film’s production, that area was considered the main “track,” or the “blade” (across the country, the main streets known for prostitution are always referred to this way). It’s possible the track in DC is in a different area now.

Tracks that have very young girls are called “kiddie tracks” or “runways.” These girls could be 11 years old or younger. The average age for a girl to enter the sex trade is 12 to 14, but Tina said the youngest she’s ever had in Courtney House is 11.

She also told about a 9 or 10 year old she once saw tied down to a hotel bed, while a room full of men waited to take their turn with her. According to the documentary, girls that young are typically found in hotels or residences, as opposed to walking the streets.

Under the watchful eyes of undercover bodyguards, Tina and Lisa walked the track of DC. They got yelled at by a pimp for not knowing “the game.”

That’s how the sex traffickers refer to what they do.

Tina and Lisa looked like newbies, and a pimp told them to get off the sidewalk and get on the street. The girls, Tina explained, are not allowed to be on the same sidewalk as a pimp. That’s a rule of “the game.”

Later they got reprimanded again. A pimp pulled up in an expensive looking white car and rolled down his window. He warned them that they were getting the game wrong.

Tina said their daddy was watching, so they couldn’t talk. The girls are told to call their pimps “daddy.”

“Your daddy?” said the pimp in the car. “I’m tryin’ to be your daddy. I’m tryin’ to motherf—– pimp you. And show you how to really do this because obviously you got the game wrong. You’re doing a lot of the wrong things. And if you’re gonna have a pimp and you’re gonna be on the streets you need to be with a —— that know what the —— to do out here. Because you’re gonna get hurt, or you’re gonna get caught up by the police.”

(The police, by the way, were out in force that night. Neither the pimps nor the johns, who drove the trade, seemed to care.)

Tina said she and Lisa weren’t from DC. They weren’t familiar with the area.

The pimp replied, “I know, baby, but you know, wherever you go on the track anywhere in the world there’s rules and regulations to this. And a pimp gotta teach you that. And you’re not taught properly. I can tell.”

They told him their daddy was watching, and they had to go. The pimp drove away after telling them to “hit his phone.”

Just like the pimp could tell Tina and Lisa weren’t “taught properly,” Tina could tell the pimps from the johns. Lisa couldn’t. They seemed the same to her.

It was a little easier for Lisa to pick out the “watchers”—men who were hired by pimps to watch the girls, and who would sometimes cruise by on bicycles.

Tina could also spot a girl in the game pretty easily. She could tell the difference between cars that contained pimps, and those that contained johns—“If you see cars roll in circles, those are the tricks.” Cars that seemed to be just sitting there were johns inspecting the girls.

As the night neared 5 a.m., the action started to wind down. It was around this time that Tina and Lisa spotted a girl who looked very young—about 12—walking the track. Tina wanted to get out and talk to her, but didn’t dare with the girl’s pimp watching from a big shiny black truck. “I don’t want her to get in trouble,” Tina said.

When the pimp realized the little girl was being watched, and saw Tina and Lisa’s camera in their car, he texted the girl, pulled up near the curb, and she got in. Tina and Lisa got the plate number as he sped by, and Tina texted a contact of hers at the police department.

That was all she could do without compromising her safety or the girl’s.

They didn’t see any of the faces from Tina’s binder.

Their undercover work was just one part of the documentary. 3 a.m. Girls covered much more about the trafficking industry, and those dedicated to rescuing people from it.

One of the most frustrating things was watching how hard these people worked, and how close they came to the girls who needed their help, but how their hands were tied. They couldn’t just go talk to the girls. They couldn’t just pound on locked doors screaming the girls’ names. They had to keep everyone as safe as possible. They had to get law enforcement involved, even if that meant waiting while police dragged their feet.

I thought some of Lisa Ling’s comments were a little inane. (On seeing the 12 year old walking the street, she said, “She’s a baby. She doesn’t even know how to walk in heels.”) But that’s okay. I’d probably say inane things in such a situation too.

3 a.m. Girls is a riveting, disturbing, but important 45-minute film. You should go watch it. It’s free on Vimeo.

***

L. Marrick is a fiction writer and freelance copywriter. 50% of proceeds from her upcoming book Working Girl, a memoir of her time working for a professional escort, go to sex trafficking non-profits. She waxes poetic about swords and the Renaissance Faire at her author blog. She looks all professional-like at her copywriting site. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter @LMarrick.


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