The 15-year-old girl planned to rendezvous with her trafficker at the food court at NorthPark Center.
She was one of the estimated 400 teens sold for sex every day in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She worked in a motel a quarter of a mile from Highland Park.
The teen made $125 from a client but wasn’t allowed to keep any of the money. The girl’s pimp warned her not to spend any money on food.
There are common misconceptions about sex trafficking: it happens in the shadows far from the public eye; those involved are women from foreign countries; and it’s rare.
Sex trafficking often starts in shopping malls. Local teens are sold. It’s a $99 million a year business in Dallas, according to the Urban Institute.
Matt Osborne, a former CIA operative, stands with a mic at the front of a small bus, which will cruise around Dallas County. He is telling stories about some of the biggest trafficking busts in Dallas on a tour hosted by nonprofit New Friends New Life.
He shares information gathered from the Texas Department of Public Safety, Dallas police and the Office of Homeland Security records.
About 20 men and women are on the bus tour to learn about the sexual abuse area teenagers experience.
Authorities struggled to prove that a pimp sold the 15-year-old girl.
Traffickers use lookouts and limit contact with customers and the girls. The teenager, in this case, claimed she didn’t know the pimp, despite text messages proving otherwise, Osborne tells the bus passengers.
Then she told investigators that the pimp was actually her boyfriend.
“She was afraid,” Osborne says.
That fear was shown in the text messages.
“When are you gonna post another ad that I’m available?” she asked the man before asking when she could take a nap.
“You take a nap when I tell you can,” he replied, the texts show.
The man did not face sex trafficking charges, but he was convicted of possessing child pornography.
“What got him was his phone,” Osborne says. “He had semi-nude picture of the girl on his phone.”
Text messages on the phone also showed details of the meeting at NorthPark and the coercive nature of the relationship between the girl and the man.
He was sentenced to five years in prison.
The bus moves on to another location. Osborne points out a high-rise hotel in Richardson.
The hotel manager was trained on how to spot signs of trafficking. He noticed a man paying cash for rooms six nights in a row.
Male visitors frequented the room, which always had a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob, Osborne tells the bus tour.
The hotel manager thought the room was being used to traffick people. He contacted the Department of Homeland Security, which sometimes investigates trafficking cases as a federal crime.
Dallas police investigators and DHS authorities rented a room next door and later arrested the pimp, whose phone contained photos of himself and a teenage girl.
The next stop on the tour is, strangely, an office park, near a neatly landscaped suburban manufacturing facility.
Osborne explains the parking lot would fill up at lunchtime. Police received a tip that the office was actually a brothel. For years, men were seen visiting an office during the lunch hour.
Were there trafficked women inside?
Osborne says authorities could never prove there were.
After weeks of surveillance, an undercover agent tried to get in but wasn’t allowed.
That case reiterated what Osborne tells the bus.
“Proving human trafficking is really difficult,” Osborne says.