9 Investigation: Teenager shares story of being trafficked for money

by: Natalie Pasquarella Updated:


CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Human trafficking is still growing in Charlotte and that includes child trafficking.

Eyewitness News has reported on a number of recent busts and a girl is sharing her firsthand account after she says she was trafficked for money.

"It's like everything's numb," said Tiara Austin.

Austin said she can't believe where she was just a year ago at 17 years old being sold for sex.

"I couldn't really get through that physical trauma anymore, like it took a toll on my body," Austin said.

Austin wanted to share her story on camera to help other girls.

She said last October, her friend met a man and wanted to visit him in South Carolina.

"They had been talking for a while and that he made her feel comfortable," Austin said.

Austin agreed to go too.

She said she left her Charlotte high school and took a bus to the transit center. She showed Eyewitness News the spot where she says her nightmare began, and Austin became emotional.

"I guess I'm shaking and nervous now, because I went through a lot," she said.

Austin said the man picked up the girls at the transit center, but didn't take them to her home like they'd planned.

"We thought we were going to be in a house, but then we pull up and it was a hotel," Austin said.

Austin said inside the hotel, he gave her a piece of paper with prices on it. What followed was several hours of sex with several men.

"I really couldn't do anything because they were already there, and he was next door, and I was just afraid that if I didn't do what I was supposed to do that I would get in trouble," Austin said.

It went on for a week. Austin said she was terrified, but also confused because her trafficker told her he cared for her and she believed him.

Police said that feeling of attachment is common.

"For lack of a better term, they're sweet-talking them," said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Detective Michael Melendez.

Melendez said traffickers assume the role of caretaker to lure girls in.

"You're dealing with teenagers who are fighting a lot with their parents, and then here comes this guy, often times telling them they love them, they'll take care of them," Melendez said.

CMPD was a part of two recent human trafficking cases.

In August, Juan Gray-Sommerville was convicted of human trafficking. According to court documents, he met at 14-year-old online, picked her up at her school in Morganton and then arranged for her to have sex with men at a Charlotte hotel.

Tony Drum was arrested last month. Police said he met a girl online and picked her up at her home in South Carolina then brought her to Charlotte to have sex with men.

Melendez said CMPD street officers have benefited from recent training on how to spot human trafficking.

"Information is getting to us faster," he said.

Melendez said parents need to monitor the websites their children visit.

Austin agreed and she said she might have avoided getting in the cab that day if those around her would have asked more questions.

"Even if it's something you don't feel comfortable about talking to your kid about I feel like you should swallow your pride, and talk to them, because if you're not talking to them, somebody else is," she said.