ABC7 is taking an in-depth look at the growing trend of gang sex trafficking in Northern Virginia. In Part One, Pamela Brown spoke with a young victim who was forced into prostitution at the hands of a Crips gang member. In Part Two, ABC7 takes a closer look at the gangs behind this heinous crime and why teen girls are their main targets.
Justin Strom is a convicted Crips gang member who helped lure young women into a dangerous world of drugs and underage prostitution. The FBI says Strom and other gang members used numerous recruiting methods, even Facebook, sending more than 800 messages from a bogus account.
ABC7 spoke with one of Strom’s accomplices, a man now serving time in Federal Prison. Michael Tavon Jefferies says gangs use girls to recruit new victims and build trust among teens.
“Women will talk ...to a woman more than a guy. Everyone who got recruited, recruited somebody else,” said Jefferies. “They'd go on facebook, talk to them and stuff like that.”
It even happens in schools. In court documents, one victim says another girl in school recruited her, telling her she was “a confident, pretty woman who could make lots of money.”
A “HIGH PAYOFF” ENTERPRISE
To gangs like the Crips and MS-13, trafficking young girls is a low cost, high payoff enterprise.
“We have seen the gang members literally taking girls as young as 12 or 14-years-old going to construction sites, going to 7-11 where there's a paying customer base,” said Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Girls are also taken to motels. Authorities say convicted MS-13 members sold girls for sex at a Budget Inn in Falls Church, even on the day after Christmas. Some gang members are so brazen they’ll run prostitution rings right out of their own homes.
Federal authorities are working with local police to crack down on this crime. But they say it’s difficult because victims are so hard to spot.
“They're not dressed in mini-skirts and fishnet stockings,” said Detective Bill Woolf, Fairfax Police Gang Investigative Unit. “They're dressed like girls who just got out of school.”
A VICTIM SPEAKS OUT
One of Justin Strom’s victims was a young woman from Fairfax County who we’ll call “Susan." Susan was just 16-years-old when she met Strom at the Springfield Metro Station. She says he was charming and used flattery to lure her in. Eventually, Susan would end up servicing countless men and doing drugs to numb her pain. She says his flattery turned to violence and she was too frightened to leave.
“It like takes your soul,” Susan explained. “It just completely takes you to a different place.”
In Northern Virginia, 12 gang members, mostly MS-13, have been locked up for child sex trafficking in the past two years. But with an estimated 5,000 gang members in this area, authorities say that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
"We're seeing most of the cases coming from MS-13 with regards to sex trafficking and we've seen a number of those cases from the past year,” said John Torres, Special Agent in Charge with ICE Homeland Security Investigations. “For us it's a disturbing trend.”