By Chelsea Ybanez
Cody Foute spent her adolescence working in fear under a street level pimp who kept her in line with beatings, mental abuse and emotional bondage.
Coming from a broken home built on a foundation of drug, physical and sexual abuse, Foute found herself in a group home by the time she was 14. She endured beatings and harassment from other girls in the group.
Foute had to find a way out, so when the opportunity to escape came, she did. A girl about Foute’s age convinced her to run away.
She said “they would be safe at her boyfriends house.” He was a pimp.
Two weeks later, Foute’s tragic tale twisted again. She was forced to sell her body. It was the first of thousands.
“I was dying inside … everything that happened within that six months validated everything instilled in me. No happiness, no worth, no joy, and I was trafficked for 10 years after that,” Foute, now 27, said.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office hosted a presentation April 17 at Santa Ana College addressing the horrors of human trafficking. Daniel Varon, Deputy District Attorney, explained how pimps recruit and control their victims, while detailing the abuse sex slaves endure.
California is among the top four destinations for human trafficking in the United States.
The average age of a victim is in the range of 12 to 14 years old with about 70 percent born in the U.S. Like Foute, most victims are runaways. There are more than 800,000 runaways in the U.S. each year, and one-third are recruited by traffickers within the first 48 hours.
Forced prostitution is growing in Orange County, with 99 defendants charged last year. The Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, an organization that rescues victims, identified 213 victims of trafficking in 2012.
Human trafficking is a $32 billion a year business, and sex trafficking is the second most profitable illegal venture after drug-related crimes, according to the OCHTTF.
With low risk, high demand, and reusable supply of the girls, gangs are converting to pimping rather than running drugs or firearms, Varon said.
Human trafficking includes labor trafficking and domestic servitude. Labor trafficking includes working for underground markets or legitimate businesses earning little money.
Domestic servitude involves forcibly working within a household after employers retain legal documents, preventing the workers from leaving. Human trafficking includes any servitude by force, coercion or deception.
California, the world’s ninth largest economy, is an ideal location for pimps to sell their product to the highest bidder.
Human trafficking exists in plain sight throughout Orange County, from massage parlors to hookers parading down Harbor Boulevard, according to task force officials.
In 2012 voters passed Proposition 35, a measure increasing the penalty for forced trafficking from a five year sentence to a minimum of 20 years to life. Fines increased from $100,000 to a maximum $1.5 million.
“[Proposition 35] will help protect our state’s most vulnerable women and children. Increasing penalties for human traffickers and online predators and strengthening victims services are much-needed steps in the fight against these crimes,” Nancy O’Malley, Alameda County DA said.
“That girl that recruited me never told I would almost die, that I wouldn’t be able to eat,” Foute, a petit blonde said. “She never told me that I would be isolated from my family, that I would have no friends.”
During her time caught in the human traffic trade, Foute was beaten, tattooed and raped by her pimp.
After escaping multiple times, Foute found herself being trafficked again because, she said, it was “the only thing she knew.”
“The victims get brainwashed,” Varon said. “They get told that the only person that is going to love them is a pimp. They are also told that law enforcement is going to arrest them and put them in jail. Law enforcement isn’t going to care about them, and no one is going to give them help. The only person that’s going to accept them now since they are a [prostitute] is their pimp,” Varon added. “Its all about psychological manipulation.”
Since prostitution is a low risk crime, trafficking is challenging to prosecute.
Foute finally escaped after a beating by her pimp in front of her two-year-old daughter, the child’s father.
“It’s not the chains around the hands or feet that keep you there. It’s the chains around your heart, your mind and your soul. It’s emotional, spiritual and mental bondage that kept us victims,” Foute said.