Local trafficking survivors help others

After the rapes, Janine Montgomery found comfort in a long bath.

At 13, locked behind the door of her parent’s Edina bathroom, the running water and music drowned out her sobs.

“I’d been so traumatized by so much sexual abuse, that was how I’d always coped even as a little girl,” said Montgomery, now an Eagan resident and founder of New Beginnings, a Burnsville anti-trafficking ministry.

Montgomery will share how she was forced into human trafficking Saturday, Feb. 16, at  Hosanna! Church, Lakeville, one of three Dakota County churches sponsoring Freedom Weekend to educate the community about sex and labor trafficking.

Montgomery had been secretly molested by babysitters since she was 3; at 8, an adult family friend had raped her before her parents moved to Minnesota when she was 10.

Like most victims, Montgomery never told her parents until years later, quietly plagued with low self-esteem and misplaced self-blame.

In junior high, another 13 year-old girl befriended her, but within months became overbearing, angered if Montgomery talked to her other friends.

“Melanie” (not her real name) coerced Montgomery into meeting her “boyfriend” at Southdale Mall, but were instead met by a group of older boys and men between 16 and 20 years old.

Janine Montgomery
Janine Montgomery

“I was hit on from the beginning,” Montgomery said. “It made me very uncomfortable.”

When she tried to decline an invitation to one of their homes, Melanie grabbed her arm and dragged her.

“The house was filled with men,” Montgomery said.

Melanie’s “boyfriend” raped her, then threatened her family’s lives if she told anyone.

“They knew where I lived,” Montgomery said.

After Montgomery dropped hints to a close friend, Melanie and others hit and threatened her at school, eventually forcing Montgomery into a car and taking her to a park where she was gang raped.

“That was their way of conditioning me,” Montgomery said. “From there things got a lot worse. They wanted me to be submissive and afraid to say anything.”

Montgomery was soon ordered to sneak out of her parent’s house and older men picked her up for late-night drug-infused sex parties.

Traffickers kept the money men paid to use her; she was plied with alcohol and drugs and kept in a bedroom while men filtered through before she was returned home.

“I’d wash and get an hour or two of sleep before school,” Montgomery said. “That was the cycle for many years. Because of all the abuses, I hated myself. I also had to live a double life, because nobody could know what was going on.”

Her family and teachers suspected there were problems, and she met with a school counselor frequently, but never told the truth of what was happening to her.

By Montgomery’s senior year, she became trusted enough to be a drug runner and they stopped calling her for sex.

At 16, she escaped from the gang’s control by simply becoming unavailable; eventually they just stopped calling, which she calls “a blessing from God.”

Although she escaped the abuse, the mental damage was lasting and deep; she struggled with anorexia, cutting and depression.

Tammy Mensink, 50, a Burnsville therapist who works with sexual abuse victims, said many go through post traumatic stress syndrome, struggle with feelings of worthlessness and many become promiscuous or develop eating disorders.

“It’s very hard for them to seek help,” Mensink said.

She became a therapist almost three years ago, after going through eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (the same therapy is used for traumatized military members) for a rape she endured at age 11.

A teenage neighbor boy offered to take her for a ride in his new car, but instead brought her to a corn field where he raped her.

“I was extremely ashamed to tell anyone,” Mensink said, a common feeling among abuse victims.

Like Mensink, Montgomery has worked to overcome her traumatic childhood and is now married with children.

Her ministry, New Beginnings, partners with churches and abolitionist groups to fight sex trafficking.

“My story still happens today,” Montgomery said, and although there are no statistics, she said she has read blogs online that indicate sex trafficking is happening in Burnsville, Eagan and Lakeville.

“I know teenagers that go to those specific schools, and they tell me that it’s happening in those schools,” Montgomery said.

She said high school girls brag about their exploits online, sharing how much they made and describing “rainbow parties,” involving oral sex and lipstick.

Adri Carlson, one of the Freedom Weekend organizers, said girls may start off selling services themselves, but then a trafficker finds them and takes control.

Ashley Fladager, a senior at the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley, said one of her friends was working at clothing shop when a man approached her and promised her a modeling job in California.

“Modeling has been her dream her whole life,” Fladager said.

She went with him to California.

“He tried to get her to do things,” Fladager said. “He was pawning her off on his friends, and when she wouldn’t do anything, he left her. She lived on the streets.”

Her family brought her back to Minnesota.

“For a while she just felt her family wouldn’t understand,” Fladager said. “She was ashamed of herself and afraid to ask for help.”

Since learning about human trafficking, Fladager has become passionate about educating others, and for her senior project is creating a nonprofit that will perform skits about trafficking in local schools.

She is also making posters and will be presenting her project to the senior class.

Her awareness of sex trafficking began while taking a mission trip.

“The women we got to work with didn’t feel there was any other way,” Fladager said. “They felt pretty much helpless. … They all had a huge burden on their shoulders. Their entire demeanor looked as though they were in chains and held down. Stuff like that catches my heart, the injustice people face.”

Montgomery said parents can look for signs of abuse, including withdrawn behavior, weight loss, depression, cutting, a change in friends and not wanting to be close to people or being touched.

“It’s not much different than being in an abused marriage,” Montgomery said.

Sgt. John Bandemer, investigator the St. Paul Police Department’s human trafficking unit, also compared human trafficking to domestic violence but for a different reason.

“We are where domestic violence advocates were 25 years ago,” he said. “We are (also) trying to get people to understand that (this) is a rampant problem in our community, and women are being victimized but never coming forward to say anything about it.”

For help and information, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or Breaking Free in St. Paul at (651) 645-6557.

Editor’s note: See related story, Human trafficking: ‘The crisis of our generation’

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