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NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Sold for sex – it’s a crime happening behind more closed doors than you might think. And sex trafficking is becoming worse in Texas than almost anywhere else in the country.
Seven women were recently rescued from an office space in Addison that operated as a massage parlor. They were modern-day sex slaves and those who helped them now want to strengthen Texas laws to stop the physical exploitation.
Tonya Stafford remembers the last moments of her childhood. “I will never forget that day, because I [had] just come home from playing.”
It was that day when Stafford, only 13-years-old, was put on the market by the one who was supposed to keep her safe. “My mom sold me for drugs,” she said.
Stafford was sold for sex at a Dallas apartment complex. The years that followed were filled with unspeakable acts. By the time she was 17-years-old she had been pregnant three times.
Stafford remembers pleading with her mother. “She was like, ‘you got to go. You have to go.’ I was like, ‘I really don’t want to go. Please don’t. I’ll do anything. I’ll clean the toilets. I’ll clean the floors. I’ll do whatever you tell me to do.’”
Stafford’s story is all too familiar at New Friends New Life, a Dallas resource center for child trafficking victims. Executive Director Katie Pedigo says, “There is no such thing as a child prostitute. It doesn’t exist. It is paid rape and it makes me angry.”
According to Pedigo, nearly one in five human sex trafficking victims in the United States are in Texas and they too often are treated as prostitutes.
Susan Hoff is the chief strategy and operating officer with United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. She says victims of trafficking crimes are often criminalized.
A North Texas delegation is headed to Austin this week, to push for new laws. The proposals include having anyone who solicits sex three times charged with a felony. The group also wants sentences for repeat Child Pornography offenders increased and punishments for trafficking victims, who often are found with drugs, decreased.
Proponents of the new Texas laws say they initial support from democrats and republicans.
Stafford says concerned neighbors where she was living helped her finally escape after 10 years. She’s now a grandmother at 41.
“It wasn’t an easy journey but you can make it as well,” she encouraged. “I have a good life now.”
UPDATE: CBS 11 spoke to Zanissia Johnson, who defended herself from the startling allegations made by her daughter.
Johnson denied accusations that years ago, she sold her teenage daughter, to a man who wanted her for sex.
“She’s not telling the truth,” said Johnson.
Johnson insists it never happened and says her daughter was actually a runaway.
“She left home on her own,” Johnson told CBS 11 reporter JD Miles. She was tipping out the window to see the man and then when I caught her she rebelled against me and she said they may have as much right to the baby and I wouldn’t let him stay in my house. So everybody in the projects knows that I didn’t sell my kids.”
Stafford is standing behind her story, and released Child Protective Services documents that reveal a statement where another child in the family confirmed the sale.
Johnson says those documents have been falsified.
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