In a report you'll see Only on 7, Pamela Brown investigates the alarming trend of gang sex trafficking in Northern Virginia. In Part 1, an exclusive interview with a young woman who became a victim at the hands of a Crips gang member.
FROM HONOR ROLL TO PROSTITUTION
She led a seemingly charmed life as an upper middle class teenager in Fairfax, Virginia. But this standout student, who we'll call "Susan", says a chance encounter with a gang member would turn her life upside down.
"I wasn't sure of myself and you can tell. Men can tell," said Susan. "He picked up on that."
It all started when she met Justin Strom while waiting for a bus at the Springfield Metro Station in the summer of 2009. Strom was 24 years old and a member of a notorious gang known as the Crips. Susan, just 16-years-old, soon began a dangerous secret life fueled by money, sex and drugs.
"When I started prostituting I'd go out and tell my mom I was going to a friend's house," explained Susan. "They just thought she's making friends, she's going out."
Susan says Strom and another gang member would pick her up near her home and take her to area apartment complexes and motels to have sex for money, sometimes servicing 40 or more men a day. She was forced to hand over almost all of her money, recalling one night when she made more than $2,000, but was only allowed to keep $100.
A SPIRAL INTO DRUGS AND VIOLENCE
To numb the pain, Susan used ecstasy and cocaine. She also says Strom and other gang members used violence as a way to keep her from leaving.
"I was so fearful of leaving because I was afraid about what's going to happen next," said Susan. "Is he going to come and find me? He used violence to control the situation."
Susan's parents began to worry, even filing a missing person's report. But no one, not even the police suspected what was going on. Eventually, police found Susan on the streets and after several stints in juvenile detention, she was able to reclaim her life.
Susan was the first of at least 10 victims in a juvenile sex ring run by convicted Crips gang members. In September, her testimony inside of Alexandria's Federal Courthouse helped send Strom to prison for 40 years.
"I felt so powerful when I went to the podium," said Susan. "I felt like he heard what I had to say."
Another key element to busting the juvenile sex ring was a savvy Fairfax school staff member who notified police after a student mentioned that her boyfriend was a gang member. Fairfax County Police and schools are now working together to raise awareness about gang sex trafficking. Police are also working with Virginia advocacy groups to spread the word.
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Be sure to watch Part 2 of Pamela Brown's in-depth report about gang sex trafficking. Friday on ABC7 News at 5, Pam takes a look at MS-13 and its growing presence in Northern Virginia.