November 16, 2006
Hundreds of thousands of women across the country are forced to work as truck stop prostitutes.
Their pimps move them across I-20.
Local FBI agents recently arrested Vincent Taitaque at a truck stop about an hour south of Augusta for transporting a minor across state lines.
The pimps keep the girls on the move…and the interstate brings the industry right through our area.
We take you now to the source of the problem, just a hundred miles down the interstate, to a place many call the worst truck stop in the country.
It's a place called Party Row, where young women disappear between hundreds of trucks parked for the night. This scene comes minutes after a call over the CB radio
Girl: "Anybody looking for a cutie pie, I'll be out walking."
Trucker: "Walk around a little bit, I want to see how cute you are."
Girl: "Which area do I need to walk in to show you how cute I am?"
Trucker Ron Blair says it happens in lots where normal vehicles and pedestrians aren't allowed.
"I've seen them bounce from truck to truck," he told News 12. "You hear them on the CB all night long."
"It's prostitutes that come on the truck stops, come on the lots, and have sex for money with truckers that's been on the roads for 2/3 weeks at a time," said trucker Mike Reynolds. "They come up and like, 'Do you want any commercial company?'"
"Commercial company" is the common call that comes across the radio.
Girl: "You looking for some company, boo?"
Trucker: "Uh-huh, I'm here in the back lot."
Girl: "What color is your house?"
When the trucker accepts, he tells the woman where to find him, and a vehicle disappears into Party Row. Minutes later, she climbs out of a truck, and walks off. Then, after a short phone call, she heads back down to the lot on foot.
Many of the prostitutes, known on the street as "lot lizards", make the CB calls off the lot to avoid security. Then a man will drive her to the trucker, and he stays nearby the entire time, until the deal is complete.
Local FBI agent Ed Reinhold works to keep the problem away from truck stops in our area. He says more than 300,000 girls across the country--some as young as 9--are forced into this lifestyle. And pimps tend to target the ones from broken homes.
"Once he gets his hooks into them, he may go as far as to promise to marry them," Agent Reinhold said. "He gives them their first sexual experience, and then he starts prostituting them out."
Across the country, in some cases. We saw a pimp waiting for his girl in a white van. Once she got out of a truck, he picked her up and they got on the interstate, heading to the next truck stop. The constant moving makes it hard to escape…which means the girls are stuck working the truck stops for men some refer to as their "boyfriend".
"If the girls don't bring in a certain amount of money at the end of the night, then there is some type of repercussion, some type of violence," Agent Reinhold told News 12.
That's why some girls make more than a dozen calls during the night.
Girl: "Go to 25 if you're looking for commercial company."
Trucker: "Where you at?
Girl: "Where you at, baby?"
Then the curtains close, and the woman comes out of the truck minutes later. She does this several more times that hour.
"I don't even open the curtain for them," says trucker Lee Abraham. "They'll beat on your door all night."
Many truckers like Lee aren't interested in "lot lizards". But listening to the CB, we found there's no shortage of customers.
Girl: "You want to come play?"
Trucker: "Booty call?"
Girl: "Straight up."
Trucker: "I don't know honey, I've never seen you."
Girl: "I'm coming back to the truck, where you located at?"
Then a vehicle drives a woman to the darkest part of the lot...a scene Ron Blair avoids on every trip.
"After dark, keep your windows rolled up and your doors locked," he said.
Ron can lock the doors and drive away…but it's a different story for these women, lost and forgotten as they disappear into the night.
The FBI assisted with hundreds of thousands of arrests in connection with runaways and prostitution in the past five years. And our local agents are continuing to do everything they can to keep the problem from driving into our area.
Research from the CDC shows the environment where young women grow up influences their chances of encountering some type of sexual violence in their lives. Women from broken homes have a 54 percent chance of becoming victims before age 18.
Counselor Melanie Klaus from the Augusta Rape Crisis Center says the road to recovery is often a long one.
"Maybe they don't feel like they deserve any better. 'This is what I'm here for, this is what I'm good for. I'm just here to be used by somebody'," Klaus explained.
If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual violence, you can contact Augusta's Rape Crisis Center at (706) 724-5200.