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tv   Sex Slaves  MSNBC  September 10, 2016 12:00am-1:01am PDT

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in the suburbs of orlando, florida, and all across america, the business of sex for sale is ruining young lives. >> i've heard a lot of people say that prostitution is a victimless crime. but it's not a victimless crime. if it was your daughter there, you would not be saying it's a victimless crime. >> girls and young women trapped in a world of despair and degradation. >> this is not some concepting adult having sex with another consenting adult for exception. these property. she's property to be bar teared
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with, to be sold. >> tonight, msnbc returns to the sunshine state and goes undercover with the polk county human trafficking task force. >> we're not here just to put people in jail, we're here to rescue people that need to be rescued. >> what do you want people to know about young women who are selling themselves? >> we're not all whores. we're not all trying to get a drug fix. there's people out there that really need help and there really is nowhere else to go. >> it's a friday afternoon on the outskirts of orlando, florida. and payday is a red letter day for people in the business of sex for sale. >> i'm looking for a little room service. can you come tonight?
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>> investigators with the polk county sheriff's office are set up in a hotel conducting a human trafficking sting. male undercovers browse the internet looking for sex ads on websites like backpage and booking dates with women. >> you got your girlfriend with you, right? >> yeah, i'd really like to meet you. >> meanwhile, female undercovers create phoney sex ads and upload them to backpage in an effort to lure unsuspecting johns into the sting. >> it says sexy hallie's here ready to make all of your fantasies come true. >> i usually, for 30 minutes i usually charge $100. >> call volume is high this friday afternoon as would-be johns are flush with cash and looking to kick off the weekend with a woman for hire. >> all right, i'll see you in a little bit. >> you have a lot of people that are maybe coming home from work, so before they go home to their families, they're calling an escort, wanting to pay to have sex. >> there's a world out here that the normal world just doesn't understand.
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>> operations like these are essential to polk county sheriff grady judd and his zero tolerance policy for vice in his jurisdiction. he wants those who may see prostitution as a victimless crime to take a deeper, harder look. >> this is not some consenting adult having sex with another consenting adult for compensation. she's property. she's property to be bartered with, to be sold. >> and for every seller of sex, there's a buyer. while many jurisdictions may be more lenient on johns, men who try to buy sex here are this for a rude awakening. >> welcome to polk county. this is what we do with folks who violate the law in the county. we hook them up, take them to jail. if you come to this county and try to obtain the services of a prostitute, you're going to get the full effect and force of the
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law. >> another one bites the dust. >> definitely something up with this cat, he's a little weird. >> outside the sting hotel, sheriff's investigators keep eyes on all who come and go. >> you guys, you have a white male walking in the door, blue dress shirt, dark slacks. >> shortly after 4:00 p.m., they get their first bite. the mans up to the undercover room, unaware his every move is being recorded by polk county sheriff's investigators. >> hi, how are you? >> the would-be john is so excited to party with the undercovers that he breaks into a spontaneous dance. >> i know you guys have stuff to do, right? >> hey, that's right. >> absolutely. what we talked about? >> yep. >> as soon as happy feet hands over $300 in exchange for the promise of sex, arresting officers move in and shut down the disco.
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>> 48-year-old steven sheridan is a certified public accountant from orlando. his arrest offers evidence that the buyers of sex come from all walks of life. even for this button-down businessman, it's a short hop from spread sheets to bedsheets. mr. sheridan is shuttled across the hallway for processing. he's unusually calm and candid for a john under arrest. he does not deny his intent to buy sex today and tells police this is not his first rodeo. >> you've done this before? >> yes. >> where at? >> amsterdam. >> sheridan jokes with police about renewing his driver's license, as if this arrest is just an amusing event. but the next john in line will
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find his own arrest to be anything but funny. >> oh, no. >> show me your hands. get over here. >> hey! >> bend over. >> 48-year-old steven dennis is a british citizen living and working in florida on a visa. >> life as they know it when the arresting walks through that door, life as they know it changes. and in a split second they see it all going away before their eyes. >> take a deep breath. come on, buddy. >> stand up, man. >> stop! >> take a deep breath. it's not that big a deal -- >> no, it is. it is. >> okay, it's -- >> i'm not going to make it. i'm telling you now. this is wrong. >> you're not going to make what? >> i texted a lady earlier, i'm sorry -- she texted me back and this is not the lady i spoke to. >> listen to me -- you're going to go across the hall and talk to somebody. you have to relax and go through the process right now. [ no, you don't understand.
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>> follow this individual right here. >> the englishman is hustled across the hallway for processing and it quickly becomes evident that he's terrified of being deported. >> you don't understand. i lose everything. i'll have to go back home. my wife i'll lose. my children. everything. my grandson. please. can i explain? if you look at my text phone, this is -- this isn't what i came here for. >> listen -- >> no listen, please. >> what did you come here for? >> massage. i spoke to a lady that was 49 years' age and she said she would text me at 4:00. and then another lady phoned me and said, you still on for 4:00? this lady phoned me. this lady phoned me. as soon as i walked in i thought, this isn't right. >> did you give her any money? >> feeling right or not, mr. dennis did give the undercover $150 in exchange for the promise of sexual intercourse. >> is there any circumstances you can cut me a break?
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>> no, there's not. >> you really want me to be deported for one stupid mistake? >> actually, this is not the english man's first mistake. mr. dennis pleaded guilty to another prostitution charge pack in 2008. >> are you under a doctor's care for anything? feel like hurting yourself today? no kidding. no jokes. >> this individual was extremely upset. and asked him if he was suicidal and he said yes. >> you're suicidal? you feel like jumping out the window? he's got to go. >> the processing room is no place to joke about suicide. >> do you realize they're going to put you in a strait jacket for three days? >> mr. dennis' remark about jumping out the window has just extended his ordeal with a mandatory detour for psychiatric evaluation. >> at that point in time, when they make statements like that, we have no choice. he's in our custody. they're our responsibility. at that point we have to ensure his safety. >> we don't know if you meant it or not. >> i understand. >> i told you on the front end, don't joke, don't exaggerate.
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>> steven dennis came to polk county looking to buy a woman. instead, he is on his way to a psych ward in the county jail. sheriff judd wants other would-be johns to know that the same fate could easily befall them. >> quite frankly, maybe for every john i embarrass i scare off a hundred more. at least in this county. how did you get started doing this? i mean, who introduced you to doing it? >> an ex-girlfriend. i used to strip. >> why do you continue to do it? >> i -- don't know.
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it happens every day in america. legions of men all across the country are laying down cold, hard cash for sex.
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>> thank you. >> is that what we talked about? >> yep. >> most of the time they don't get caught. but today, the polk county sheriff's office is conducting a human trafficking sting. >> and then sometimes some of the johns are these clean-cut people that have no idea they're walking into a potential den of criminals. that will not only take their money, but take their life. >> all right, sir, you understand that? you're going to follow this detective out this door. >> okay. >> in fact, most men who are caught buying sex profess little regard for the hazards of prostitution. >> how is this going to affect your employment, do you know? >> let's hope for the best. >> 48-year-old steven sheridan is by all outward appearances an upstanding middle-class american. he's also a repeat customer in the sex for sale game. >> you seem like a very educated person. why are you doing this? >> that's a really good question.
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>> you've got to know this is the risk that you take. >> sheridan agrees to speak with our producer grace kong. >> are you married? >> no, divorced. two weeks ago. >> are you serious? >> yeah. >> he admits to buying women for sex before without giving it much thought. >> so i think the men who -- men like you who buy sex in america need to kind of have a deeper appreciation for what kind of industry you're supporting. do you really think women want to make a living that way? i say that because i don't think men want to think about it. >> i can't imagine they'd want to. >> it's tough to think about when it you really think about who these women are. you're going to meet a few in here. >> it will be a few hours before transport to jail. in the meantime mr. sheridan will have a front-row seat for the sordid spectacle of human suffering that is america's underground sex trade. >> one coming in 45 minutes is bringing a friend also, $200
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appeals. >> this male undercover is in contact with a woman who offers to bring a friend for what is known as a two-girl show. shortly after 5:00 p.m. they arrive. >> hello. how are you? what are you doing in orlando? >> i'm here one night. >> making deals can be awkward. >> the undercover asks about price but the women are wary and reluctant to discuss specifics. he must wait until they signal their intent to perform a sexual service. >> you need to get comfortable. that will make me more comfortable. >> what do you want me to do. >> get naked? >> go ahead. get naked. >> stand up, please. >> hey, we doing it in front? >> in front unless they are giving us problem. >> the women in custody 34-year-old shawna and 26-year-old lindsey, both from orlando.
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>> how many times have you been arrested for this? >> my second time. >> i've never been arrested before. >> this is second time ever arrested. >> ever arrested for the same thing. >> we didn't take any money, ask for amount of money. we didn't mention anything we were doing but we were still detained. >> everything you said, everything you did is all recorded. >> i know. >> did you ask somebody to take their clothes off. >> both ladies asked the undercover to get naked. according to florida criminal code, that is soliciting a lewd act. furthermore the undercover worked out a price of $400 with shawna on the phone prior to their arrival. >> how did you get started doing this? who introduced you to doing it? >> an ex-girlfriend. i used to strip. >> why do you continue to do it? >> i don't know. >> is it good money? honestly. >> not really. >> are you unable to find another job? >> i work at red lobster. >> so you do have a job? >> uh-huh. >> you need extra money.
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>> i just had a baby. >> so many people live in a world they don't see what really goes on. they want to believe this kind of stuff doesn't happen every day. but it does. to all kinds of girls out there. from all different walks of life. >> you don't get nervous something could happen to you? >> occasionally. i don't go out a lot. >> i've found that once these girls get involved in it, they almost feel like theee is no way out. >> the women are placed in the holding room to await transfer to jail. it's an opportunity for mr. sheridan to hear some facts of life not uncommon to women working in the sex trade. lindsay even tells our producer she is a fan of the "sex slave" series. >> if you watch the show, my god, why would you do this? >> i'm young and dumb. >> is somebody making you do it? >> no, no. >> seriously? >> yeah. things are rough right now. >> how rough are they? >> rough.
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a couple bad things happened to me before i turned 18 that kind of turned me against the whole -- >> did somebody rape you? >> yes. just -- it's -- >> an older man? >> yeah. he was one of my favorite uncles. >> oh my god. so that must have been tough -- did you tell your dad? >> oh, yeah. i don't know what happened to my uncle. >> you don't know what happened to your uncle, what do you mean? >> i never heard from him again. >> you don't deserve that. nobody did. >> horror stories like lindsay's are all too common in the underground sex trade. experts say some 90% to 95% of women in the life were victims of incest and child rape. >> some of these young ladies, they have been sexually abused all their life. so when we come in saying, you don't have to live like this, there's a better way, and we want to help you. they look at us like we're from mars. >> this man's attitudes about
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buying sex may or may not change today. but his time in custody has afforded him a rare glimpse at the real face of prostitution and the pain that lives behind the fake smiles of the women who service him. i did nothing. i came up here -- >> i am here to detain you. the people that answer questions will answer them over there.
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it's a friday afternoon and investigators with the polk county sheriff's office are set up undercover in a hotel conducting a human trafficking sting. >> all right, she's coming up to the front door. long hair. >> this woman goes by the name autumn storm. >> and she's coming in the lobby in just a second. >> she engages the undercover in some preliminary small talk, then retreats to the bathroom to slip into something a little more comfortable. while offering the undercover this preview of the merchandise, autumn storm agrees to $400 in exchange for 90 minutes of sex.
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>> she said she won't do anal at all. >> she won't do anal. >> but she'll do everything else. >> arresting officers move in and take her into custody. >> are you serious? what? >> 42-year-old kimberly savistan is a divorced mother from the nearby town of winter haven, florida. billed in her online ad as a cougar she react toth her first arrest with a growl. >> i've done nothing. i'm here for a date. >> there's a first time for everything. >> maybe i should be -- someone should explain to me what's going on. >> you offered to give somebody sex and oral sex for $400, that's what you did wrong. >> no i didn't. >> okay, well, you can tell that to the judge. >> okay. >> among her effects police find a dozen condoms and a stun gun for self-defense. >> i take that on dates. >> you take it on dates? >> testimony to the very real dangers that lurk in the
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underground sex trade. >> i'm not a prostitute. i'm on sugar daddy, i'm on -- oh my god, i'm on a lot of sites. with guys who are married and want to hook up and hang out, go to dinner. >> despite her arrangement with the undercover, kimberly bristles at the suggestion that she's selling sex for money. >> i'm on a blind date. >> yeah, you sure are. >> you have a date with us. >> yeah, i give the false name to guys that i don't know for the first time. especially when i got a boyfriend. >> and you're on a blind date? >> what woman doesn't cheat? what man doosn't cheat? >> me and my wife. >> i've heard that before. >> almost as if on cue, police apprehend kimberly's so-called boyfriend in the parking lot and march him upstairs to a processing room. >> how old are you, keith? >> 42. excuse me, 46.
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>> at the time of his arrest, 46-year-old greg shyry has a handgun tucked into his waistband, which is perfectly legal in florida with his conceal and carry permit. >> you have the right to remain silent. anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. >> shyry tells police he's currently working in a pawn shop, going through a divorce, and living in his mother's house. >> and i recently split up with my wife, and she split up, and we kind of got together. >> you're not divorced from your wife? >> no, not yet. >> while kimberly maintains she's stepping out on shyry for a blind date, shyry tells police a completely different story. >> we swing. we see other partners. she just wanted to go on a date. >> shyry tells police that kim is a swinger but he says he has no idea that she is an escort. >> how long has she been escorting that you know of? >> escorting? i didn't -- i did not know that. >> greg, greg, come on, come on. i'm not going to --
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>> we have no money. i did not know she was doing this. >> this fellow here, his girlfriend of several months, he drove her here to the location for her to engage in sex with a guy or girl, she didn't explain to him. >> yeah, i just thought she was going to hook up with someone. >> so tonight you thought she had a date and you were supposed to drop her off and come back? >> yeah, yeah. >> you don't have a problem with that? >> no, sir. we're promiscuous. >> okay. >> since shyry claims to be in the dark, detectives take a moment to enlighten him with the online adventures of autumn storm. >> hello, gentlemen, my name's autumn storm, i'm a rare breed, born and raised right here. >> wow. >> here is greg shyry's shocked face. it's the one he wears when he discovers his so-called girlfriend is selling sex online. >> who took them pictures? where's that picture taken at, your house?
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is that at your house? >> shyry refuses any photo credits and appears even more shocked when he learns how much kim is charging for her services. >> overnight is $5,000. 12 hours is $5,000. tampa area it's $5,500. you want 12 hours with her -- >> wow. >> sarasota, $500. >> what's your response? >> totally disgusted. >> you had no idea? >> no. >> what about discussing her being a swinger? >> how much money are you going to give her? >> anything happens from this day forward, you are made aware now, so you can't claim ignorance anymore. >> kimberly, you're here because it's a misunderstanding? >> yes, totally a misunderstanding. >> meanwhile, in the other room, nobody's told kimberly that greg has flipped the script and cast her as a swinger.
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is she's still running the old lines from her original story. >> kimberly, is your boyfriend going to be upset? >> i don't think he'd be happy. but -- people do things. we all make stupid mistakes. about going behind our boyfriend's, girlfriend's backs. nobody's perfect. >> swingers or not, kimberly and greg's flimsy charade is the evidence evidence of the sort of nonsense vice detectives encounter every day on the job. getting the straight story from pimps and the women they control can often seem like an impossible task. but it's a task that polk county sheriff's investigators will not avoid. and soon their efforts will pay off. we're not here just to put people in quail. we're here to rescue people that need to be rescued. >> i just don't want this to ruin my life. >> it doesn't have to. it doesn't have to ruin your life. the only person that can change that is you.
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spend some time with polk county's human trafficking task force and you'll see a lot of arrests for prostitution and pandering. but the purpose behind all this effort is much greater than just numbers on a tote board. >> we're not here just to put people in jail. we're here to rescue people that
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need to be rescued. we want to help. that's why we do this. >> the reality is that most women arrested in stings like these will not ask for help. most are under the heel of a pimp. many are addicted to drugs. and some simply see no other way to put food on the table. i can just rejoice in the one that will let us help them. and our deputies go out every day looking for these folks. to pull them out of that environment. >> i've got a couple of girls that are showing interest. but we'll see. >> this male undercover is in contact with a very young-looking female. her ad says she's 20. but he suspects she may be a juvenile. after some negotiation by text, she finally agrees to an outcall
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and arrives at the hotel shortly before 9:30. >> has my time started? all riggt, okay. >> and no anal. >> no anal? >> a price of $340 is agreed upon for half an hour of sex. >> good? >> yeah. >> okay. >> as soon as the money changes hands, sheriff's deputies move in and make the arrest. the woman in custody is 21-year-old stephanie. she is quiet and cooperative. but investigators quickly get a sense of her personal distress. >> you ever been arrested before for prostitution? >> no, sir. >> where's your mom and dad? >> my dad i haven't talked to in -- i couldn't even tell you how long. and my mom, it's probably been about a year. she's really sick. >> a tattoo on stephanie's back offers detectives insight on her
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troubled family history. >> it says "colesta." >> i knew from the name of it because it's kind of an old-school kind of name that it was either a mom or a grandma. >> is that grandma. >> no, it's my mom. >> you care about your mom? >> a lot. >> people put tattoos on their backs for a couple of different reasons. one of them is because they're easy to hide. one of the reasons for covering it up is there's a lot of shame attached. >> i haven't been the best daughter. i kind of -- i was starting to cause a lot of problems. >> wow, you can read people very well. i just don't feel like i'm good enough for them. >> outside the hotel, police detain the man who delivered stephanie to the date and bring him up to the processing room. 25-year-old simon hudson is just a friend, according to stephanie. but police are understandably suspicious he may be her pimp. >> were you going to give him any money tonight?
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>> no. i don't -- i don't pay him any cash. >> i mean, obviously he knows what you're doing up here. he didn't try to convince you not to do it? >> he told me he doesn't think i should be doing it. but, you know. i make my own decisions. >> stephanie is moved to another room and given the opportunity to meet with a social worker. meanwhile, detectives turn their attention to simon. >> all right, what are you doing here? >> she asked me for a ride and i came down here. >> what were you going her a ride for? >> she said she had a date and stuff. >> a date meaning what? >> i mean, she's -- that means usually she's coming down to see somebody. >> is she a prostitute? >> i mean -- yeah, that's what -- it's never been said like that, but that's what i understood, yeah. >> were you there just to give her a ride? >> yeah. >> how much money were you getting for giving me a ride? >> she hadn't told me yet, it was going to be discussed. >> you were going to get some money for driving, you weren't doing it for nothing? >> for driving, yeah. for driving her.
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>> despite stephanie's efforts to protect him simon has just incriminated himself for deriving proceeds from prostitution. a felony charge that comes on top of a prior conviction for cultivating marijuana. >> he claimed that he was best friends with this girl that he brought up here. and he was helping her out by bringing her up here allowing her to make money. at the same time he's expecting to be paid for his services of bringing her up here. >> it's not like something i was planning on doing. she doesn't have a license and she needed some help. >> have you ever thought about convincing her maybe to do something else? >> i've tried. >> what do you mean, you've tried? giving her a ride three times, getting 20 to 50 bucks, that's not trying to me, that's taking advantage of the situation. >> i understand that, i am getting something out of it. >> the problem is you don't understand that what you're doing is really wrong. >> i understand what i'm doing is wrong but i just -- i -- i mean, everything's going through now. and i'd rather just not have this conversation with you. why is it that you're feeling like this?
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why are you saying that i am the problem for this? i don't feel like that i am the one that have done anything to force anybody into anything. >> you're encouraging her to do it. >> i am not encouraging her. i've done everything to ask her not to do it. >> other than not take money from -- >> we have to survive. i don't understand why you're judging me like that. >> drop her off at a hotel to meet a complete stranger, goes and waits down the road for her to call? >> i understand, but i totally get where you're coming from. what i'm doing is not an awesome thing. but it's not like i am -- i'm not this girl's pimp, know what i'm saying? i don't have anything to do with this. this aspect has got nothing to do with me. she asked me for a ride, i give her a ride. >> simon's actions tonight are a huge plunder. >> no, no, i already see this is going to not be awesome. >> his arrest violates the terms of his probation. he's sent to county jail to await a hearing. >> simon. over here.
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what do you want people to know about young women who are selling themselves? >> we're not all whores. there's people out there that really need help. and there really is nowhere else to go.
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it's a friday night in polk county, florida. and 21-year-old stephanie is under arrest for prostitution. >> you ever been arrested before for prostitution? >> no, sir. >> where's your mom and dad? >> my dad i haven't talked to in -- i couldn't even tell you how long. and my mom, it's probably been about a year, she's really sick. >> almost immediately, arresting officers sense her despair and vulnerability. >> you think this is probably the best thing for you to be doing? >> absolutely not.
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>> i've heard a lot of people say that prostitution is a victimless crime and it should even be legalized. but my response to that is that you need to sit in an interview with me. >> i want to call my family. >> you need to watch these girls and watch the amount of emotions that they go through in a matter of five or ten minutes when i'm speaking with them. it's not a victimless crime. if it was your daughter there, you would not be saying it's a victimless crime. >> i just don't want this to ruin my life. >> it doesn't have to. it doesn't have to ruin your life. you're the only person that can change that is you. >> i tell these girls that when they're arrested, this is a blessing that you were arrested tonight. because hopefully this will change. >> stephanie, this is a dangerous thing that you're doing. you're too good for this. you know that? >> stephanie tells our producer grace kong that she had recently been living in her car and selling sex periodically to pay
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for food and gasoline. >> did somebody get you back into the game then? or did you just feel like you had no choice? >> i had no choice. >> where were you living? >> in the car. >> you were homeless? >> uh-huh. >> how did you get involved with selling yourself? >> somebody introduced me to it. >> who? simon? >> no. >> at the time of her arrest, stephanie was traveling in the company of a man named simon hudson. >> asks me for a ride, i give her a ride. >> hudson was charged with deriding proceeds of prostitution after admitting he'd drive stephanie to dates in exchange for money. >> do you know what human trafficking is? >> i understand what it is. >> hudson insists that he is not stephanie's pimp. he claims that he is actually her best friend. >> i just don't like the fact that these people are making it out to seem like i'm some kind of individual that's forcing somebody, you know. i'm not forcing anybody. she doesn't have a license, she asked me to drive her here, know what i'm saying? i'm not going to sit here and let these people make me seem
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like i'm some kind of human trafficker. that's not what i'm doing. >> is she living with you now? >> yeah. >> how long's she been living with you? >> i guess -- maybe -- six months, maybe. >> was she homeless when she met you? >> uh-huh. she was -- not home his. she lived out of her car, kind of. and i told her that that wasn't okay and i didn't want her to be out on the streets like that and she could sleep -- i slept in the living room for a long time. >> now where are you sleeping? >> living room. she stays in my room. i can't force her not to do something and i felt like i was -- helping her more than any other means that i had by at least making sure that she had somebody, that she wasn't alone. i felt like at least making sure she wasn't by herself was at least better than nothing.
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>> after hearing hundreds of similar stories from pimps and traffickers, experienced investigators are unmoved by simon's good samaritan pitch. he is shuttled off to the county jail where he will now face a pimping charge on top of a probation violation for a prior marijuana conviction. but stephanie insists that there is more to the story and that simon is not really what he seems. >> he's not a pimp. i never give him money. my license was suspended. and like i said, i asked him to take me somewhere and he took me. that was the extent of it. >> you've lived through this now -- >> a few months after her arrest, stephanie was in the midst of a remarkable transformation. she agreed to sit down with our cameras and tell us more about herself and her time in the underground sex trade. >> you've had a hard, hard number of years. i mean, i don't think there's ever been a time when your life wasn't hard. >> i couldn't remember. if i -- if it was, it was probably before i was 8.
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>> like the vast majority of women working in the sex trade, 7ny was a victim of child sexual abuse. she says she was raped by her stepfather at the age of 8. >> it's hard. it's not like you wake up every day with the thought in big red letters, you know. i was molested, i was raped when i was a kid. but it's just -- it's always here. >> on top of recurring sexual abuse, stephanie says there was also physical and psychological abuse that prevented her from telling anyone about her predicament. >> i was really scared. like if i did something wrong, like he would punish me, like shank me. he hit my mom, he would throw things at my mom too. it just wasn't a good marriage. then i don't know, i guess i felt like if i throw more on top of this, what's he going to do with my mom? what's he going to do with me? it's really hard to weigh it out.
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>> it's just hard to believe, you know? of course no mother wants to hear that. no mother ever wants to hear what happened to their child. where was i, what was i doing, how could this have happened under my nose and i knew nothing about it? i want to say that your kids want to come home. whatever happened in the past, fix whatever it is and get your kids back home.
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it's a friday night at the polk county jail and the paddy wagon is delivering men and women arrested in a human trafficking sting. among those on board is stephanie, a 21-year-old tampa native whose road to sexual servitude began as a child. >> it seems like i've been an object of lust or desire for my whole life. >> like most women engaged in the sex trade, stephanie carries the psychological scars of child
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sexual abuse. at the tender age of 8 she says she was raped by her stepfather. >> and there for a while i couldn't even stand to look at myself. like i would try to be a tom boy, like the complete opposite of a girl. they called me steven when i was little. just because i tried so much not to be a little girl. because i was getting touched and molested and stuff. so if i'm a little boy playing in dirt and worms and stuff, you know, maybe they'll leave me alone. but it never worked that way. >> that time in my life was never a stable time. there was always turmoil. >> stephanie's mother colesta struggled as a single parent after a divorce from stephanie's buy million father. she remarried when stephanie was 7, but then became subject to physical and psychological abuse from her second husband. >> there was, you know, fighting and arguing and just, you know,
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unhappiness with the relationship. so of course that stems into the child's happiness as well. because i guess they don't like to see their mom or their parent, you know, in turmoil or unhappy or sad. >> but stephanie says her unhappiness ran much deeper than her mother could ever have imagined. like many victims of child sexual abuse, young stephanie never breathed a word to anyone. not even her biological father. she was terrified of violent retribution from her stepfather. >> he would spank me so bad sometimes that think mom couldn't send me to my dad's
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that weekend. i was very scared. i couldn't go see my dad for two weeks at one point because i had handprints from him whooping me so bad. >> it was only after the second marriage ended in divorce that colesta finally learned the awful truth from her daughter. >> your immediate thoughts are just -- you're flabbergasted, you're shocked, you're surprised. you're just like, how could something like that happened right under my nose and i knew nothing about it? >> did you ever confront the man -- >> did i confront him? yeah, i've talked to him. he denied it and said that it never happened. >> and there was an investigation? >> uh-huh. >> stephanie's claims prompted an investigation by local authorities. but it was too little, too late. there was no evidence, and no case to be made. >> because i guess too many years had gone by. and they didn't have evidence, they didn't have proof. >> nevertheless, colesta says she believes her daughter and now feels great remorse for her inability to protect her. >> and that's hard for me to deal with, you know? because i -- i feel guilty. fy had given my child a better
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life or if i had a better education myself or if i could have done, you know, better things, then you know, i could have -- feel like i could have somehow prevented that. >> so you have guilt? >> oh, yeah. lots of guilt. lots of guilt. >> at 17, stephanie dropped out of school and left home. she got a job at a restaurant and eventually fell in love with a co-worker who invited her to live with him. but that relationship soon took an all too familiar turn towards violence. >> yeah, he ended up hitting me. we got into, you know, an argument, whatever. and i ended up in the same week with two black eyes and arm in a sling, popped my shoulder out of place. so it was pretty much seeing everything that had happened to my mom, it was better to live in my car than to keep walking around with black eyes. >> unwilling to stick around for the abuse and feeling estranged from her mother, stephanie fell in with some girlfriends who eventually introduced her to the idea of selling sex online. >> i don't want to say it wasn't
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a big deal. but it's like -- because i've had it happen to me before, like i just disconnect myself. i don't know if that makes sense. like where i'm just -- i'm there but i'm not there. because i used to have to do it all the time. >> because of the constant abuse in your house when you were just 8, and this is not something that just happened once. >> no. >> it was a regular occurrence in your household? >> yes. >> so you already had a coping mechanism for that. >> yes. i don't like what i did, you know. but i did it. and it's what i had to do at the time. got to survive. you've got to eat, you've got to keep on going. >> and so it was that stephanie came to be arrested by polk county sheriff's investigators in the spring of 2013. >> do you know what human trafficking is? >> yeah, i understand what it is. >> her companion, 25-year-old simon hudson, eventually pleaded guilty to deriving proceeds from prostitution.
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after mittag he drove stephanie to dates in exchange for money. but stephanie maintains that simon is just the unfortunate victim of a misunderstanding. >> in no way, shape or form is he exploiting you? >> no, never. like he found out i was homeless and was living in my car and he says, this is ridiculous, you can come stay with me. he slept in the living room for like two months and gave me his room. i hadn't slept in a bed in so long. simon's shown me a lot of kindness. >> when we sat down with stephanie, it had been three months after her arrest. by then, she had stopped selling sex and her friendship with simon had only grown deeper. but shortly after our interview, simon was back in the county jail for another probation violation. this time for exceeding his 10:00 p.m. curfew. nevertheless, stephanie remains loyal. >> he makes me want to be better. because he's constantly
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reminding me how good of a person he thinks i am. >> what do you want people to know about young women who are selling themselves? >> we're not all whores. we're not all just trying to get a drug fix. there's people out there that really need help. and there really is nowhere else to go. >> today, stephanie is back at home with her mother colesta, working at a restaurant and saving money. stephanie is now hoping for the chance to go to nursing school and put the past behind her. >> you can start over. and, you know, make a new life for yourself. no, it's not going to be easy. but you can do it. >> yes, i did make a mistake. and it's okay to make mistakes. i mean, it's inevitable. but after this, somebody might look at me and be like, that girl went through a lot and she's still there. good for her. go, her.
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>> turnarounds like stephanie's happen every day. and they often egin with arrests and legal interventions like those we've seen here in polk county. but sheriff grady judd wants the public to know that the problem will never go away without the help of ordinary citizens. >> people need to go to their mayor, to the county commissioners, to their city commissioners, to their local police chief, to the local sheriff, and say, what are you doing? we're tired of it. we're fed up with it. if we all work together, could we resolve this? we absolutely could. we could never stop it 100%. but we could turn that faucet all the way to where there was just a drip. as opposed to it running wide open. which is what it's doing now.
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from the privacy of homes across america fantasy girls from the web promise to fulfill every man's desire. in record numbers men troll the web and the streets desperately seeking sex for cash. but it's buyer beware in san francisco. >> you're under arrest for soliciting prostitution. >> as police cast a bright light on the johns who operate in the shadows. >> would you please get rid of that camera? >> tonight msnbc gets up close and personal with men rich and poor.

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