Sold

Between local computers and hotel rooms exists a clandestine subculture of sex sold through the Internet. And Tulsans are buying.



Kristin and Jason Weis are the co-founders of The Demand Project, which works to protect children from sexual exploitation.

(page 1 of 5)

NEW Girl in Town to Rock Your World. 

I am a Married Man’s Best-Kept Secret! 

New, Young, Hot ‘n’ Sexy.

At the end of a typical Thursday, these are a few of the tamest headlines of about 30 local ads for Tulsa-based escorts. The ads are marketed on Backpage, a free classified website that looks nearly identical to Craigslist.

The escorts are marketed as 18 and older, and their heavily made-up faces and mature figures might seem to corroborate that story.

But the reality is, according to Sgt. Todd Evans of the Tulsa Police Department’s Vice Unit, some of the scantily clad young women advertised for “donations” of $200-$400 an hour, may be children. 

While both are illegal, soliciting sex online is different from the age-old practice of street prostitution. That’s because law enforcement has discovered many of the young women turning tricks booked online are victims of sex trafficking, meaning they have been exploited through fraud, force or coercion to perform commercial sex acts. 

According to federal and Oklahoma law, individuals under age 18 involved in the commercial sex trade are automatically considered victims of trafficking.

Thanks to the anonymity of the Internet, while the girls are positioned as online merchandise, the pimps marketing them are seldom seen by the public, including the local “johns” buying what is advertised.

Unlike picking up a prostitute on a street corner, Internet solicitation is more secretive and more easily accessible. 

“People seem to accept it more if it’s through the Internet versus on the street,” Evans says.

And, seemingly, so do the girls being advertised online.

“These are girls who would never consider being a street prostitute, but it’s OK to do it if you’re on the Internet and you’re in a hotel,” he says.

The topic of sex trafficking — also referred to by various sources as human trafficking — is a complex one. While it is part of the national dialog perhaps now more than ever, the local crime continues to fly under the radar of most law-abiding Tulsans.

“If you’re just a person who wakes up in the morning, takes a shower, goes to work, has a family, watches a little television at night — you might not ever see this or know that this goes on,” Evans says. “But it is an organized big deal.”


‘Line in the sand’

He worked in sales and marketing. She did hair. They lived a comfortable life with their two children in the picturesque mountains of Colorado.

The lives of Jason and Kristin Weis would take a much different turn, however, after watching a story on the local news. 

The bulletin they saw that night was about a father who had raped his toddler daughter, videoed his brutal crime and downloaded it to the Internet. And thousands had logged on to watch. Not one or two twisted individuals. Thousands. 

“It was a line in the sand moment,” Jason recalls.

The Weises say a deep calling emerged to fight for child victims of sexual exploitation. A friend directed them to Tulsa’s Victory Bible Institute for what they call spiritual training and preparation, which prompted their move here in 2006.

“The friend had explained that it was going to be a very evil war and that we needed to be spiritually equipped and ready for what we were about to launch into,” Kristin says. “One of her lines was, ‘What you’re about to fight can kill you if you’re not prepared. The very thing that you’re fighting can destroy you, your family, your whole life if you’re not careful.’

“And it can,” Kristin says, “because it’s so heavy. This thing is so big and dark.” 

In January 2013, the Weises founded a nonprofit called The Demand Project, which works to prevent child pornography and protect children from online enticement and sex trafficking. Its efforts support the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, TPD, the Jenks Police Department and the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

The group’s name stems from what Jason describes as the underlying problem driving the multi-billion dollar online sex industry: “There’s a demand for it.”

And he says the Internet is the No. 1 place to market trafficking victims, most of whom are female.

TPD Vice has encountered only female victims, says Evans, though the International Labor Organization reports that 2 percent of people trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation are men or boys.  

“There are people out there who are willing to spend the money to have sex with girls, and the younger the girl, the more money that the pimps get,” Jason says.

Kristin has accompanied law enforcement to five victim rescue operations, where she is trained to question the victims and offer them help to leave the world of prostitution.

“Finesse pimps,” a term used by law enforcement to describe those who use charm and flattery to attract their victims, recruit many of the girls Kristin meets. The girls targeted often have unstable home lives or histories of abuse, she says, but some are simply dealing with low self-esteem at a vulnerable age — often 15, 16, 17 years old. 

Kristin paints the picture: “You add a guy in there that says, ‘Oh, baby, you’re so beautiful. You’re so amazing, and I’m going to do everything for you. Those parents of yours, they may be good parents, but they’re too strict. They’re not giving you what you want. You deserve to be a princess. Come with me.’”

A common recruitment strategy for a pimp is to pose as a performing artist and offer a young girl a part in his rap video, Evans says. The pimp then persuades the girl to help raise funds to make the video through posting “dates” on sites like Backpage. 

Often, pimps troll social media sites such as Facebook to recruit young victims, according to the sergeant.

During the grooming process, the pimp may buy the girl he has targeted nice gifts and “make love to her — maybe for the first time,” Kristin says, making the girl believe he is simply a caring boyfriend.

But in just a short time, what seemed innocent turns pure evil. Kristin describes a shocking and violent turn of events she has seen play out many times.

“Then, the pimp takes everything away and starts raping her, and he says, ‘If you want to get back to where I just took you, you’ve got to do this, this and this,’” Kristin says. “Once a girl’s heart is given away, you’ve now got that bond and that predator knows it. And he is going to use her, sell her and get whatever he wants.

“She may every once in awhile get a gift, or he might make love to her again, but if she doesn’t do what he tells her, he is going to beat her, rape her and do all these things. But she remembers the guy that he was, and now her whole life is to get him back because girls think they can change guys — even in the worst, manipulative situation.”

Getting the real story from trafficking victims is typically a long process of working through one lie after another, Kristin says.

“It’s hard for them to turn on that person, as odd and as perverted as it is, who has become their security and their stability,” she explains.

At a recent sting, Kristin asked a trafficking victim whether she loved her pimp. The girl answered, “Yes, because he’s such a powerful and strong man,” Kristin recalls.

“I said, ‘What makes him powerful and strong when you’re the one making all the money? What does he do? He’s profiting off of you being repeatedly raped. How do you figure he loves you?’

“Just getting them to see reality is a very important thing, if they’re open to seeing it,” Kristin says. “It can go either way though.”

In the 2008 film “Taken,” actor Liam Neeson plays an ex-CIA operative whose daughter is kidnapped by sex traffickers while vacationing in France. Neeson’s character travels to Europe and makes a dramatic rescue.

Off screen, there are few such rescues from trafficking because many of the girls being trafficked do not self-identify as victims, Kristin explains.

“If a girl is in love with the pimp, she doesn’t see herself as a victim,” she says. “Her heart may be victim to him, but she’s not a victim in her mind.”

It seems inconceivable that a girl of 15 or 16 who is repeatedly raped by much older men does not seek escape, but traffickers rely on fear and manipulation to control their victims, Jason says. 

Often the victim may have become addicted to drugs introduced by her trafficker, who holds the key to her next fix, according to Jason. A form of traumatic bonding, sometimes identified as Stockholm syndrome, also can emerge, a phenomenon in which victims have positive feelings toward their abusers and may seek to defend them.

In addition to suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental or medical issues, he says, a victim may have a child with her pimp, strengthening her connection to him and allowing him to use the child as a pawn. 

“A lot of people ask, ‘Well, once these girls are free, aren’t they going to be screaming, ‘Yay for freedom?’“ Jason says, “but that’s typically not the case. They’ve been conditioned not to trust.”

Multiple sources say trafficking victims do not leave the commercial sex industry easily. A portion of girls recruited into trafficking eventually becomes recruiters themselves, a position called a “bottom bitch,” Jason says.

“It seems from our experiences, it takes several instances for the victims to really want to get out,” Kristin says, “and it takes hitting bottom to almost death — being brutally beaten or a trauma of some type.”

While society may perceive prostitution as a victimless crime, arguing that a victim has the opportunity to leave the lifestyle, Jason says it’s not that simple for trafficking victims.  

In many cases, he says, “When you really look beneath the surface, you find that the girl had been sexually abused as a child and was groomed and lured by these predators — the pimp or the trafficker. 

“Then you really start to understand the level of abuse that these girls go through,” Jason says, “and realize, ‘OK, maybe I have to look at this a little bit differently.’”

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Cost: $15

Where:
Studio K (Tulsa) and Zarrow Studio (Broken Arrow(
1212 E 45th Place
Tulsa, OK  74105
View map »


Sponsor: Tulsa Ballet
Telephone: 918-749-6006
Contact Name: Dan
Website »

More information

Abersons presents Pink Ribbon -- an exclusive, high-fashion fundraiser featuring a runway show by one of the world's hottest designers. Cocktails 6 p.m. | Dinner & Live Auction 7...

Cost: $1,250

Where:
Southern Hills Country Club
2636 E. 61st St.
Tulsa, OK  74136
View map »


Sponsor: Abersons
Telephone: 918-834-7200
Contact Name: Scarlet Henley
Website »

More information

Nimrod Journal and Booksmart Tulsa will host Write Night 2019 at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, October 18th, at the Tulsa Historical Society & Museum. Write Night will feature a reception and...

Cost: $0

Where:
Tulsa Historical Society and Museum
2445 S Peoria Ave
Tulsa, OK  74114
View map »


Sponsor: Nimrod Journal
Telephone: 918-631-3080
Contact Name: Cassidy McCants
Website »

More information

Join us for Nimrod Write Night, the opening event of our Nimrod Conference for Readers and Writers weekend, on Friday, October 18th, at the Tulsa Historical Society, 6:30 p.m. Write Night is...

Cost: free

Where:
Tulsa Historical Society
2445 S. Peoria Ave.
Tulsa, OK  74114
View map »


Sponsor: Nimrod Journal
Telephone: 918-631-3080
Contact Name: Cassidy McCants
Website »

More information

For the first time in 10 years, we will hear new music and get a new tour from three-time GRAMMY® Nominated, American Music Award and Dove Award winning recording artists Avalon. The group will...

Cost: $24.50-$75.00

Where:
Owasso First Assembly
9341 N. 129th E. Ave.
Owasso, OK  74055
View map »


Sponsor: Compassion Live
Telephone: 877-234-3847
Contact Name: Carol
Website »

More information

Originally from West Africa, Kizomba is a partner dance that is a sexy addition to any Latin dance party. It is the fastest Latin growing dance in the U.S. Come and learn the basics plus a few more...

Cost: 109

Where:
THE DANCE PLACE
3310 WEST 42ND PLACE
TULSA, OK  74107
View map »


Telephone: 918-813-6514
Website »

More information

Signature Symphony at TCC celebrates the work of the late Ernie Fields, a Tulsa icon who had a career as a bandleader and trombonist. Fields’ music developed at a time when R&B, swing,...

Cost: $36 - $58

Where:
VanTrease Performing Arts Center for Education
10300 E 81st St
Tulsa, OK  74133-4513
View map »


Sponsor: Signature Symphony at TCC
Telephone: 918-595-7768
Contact Name: Tabitha Littlefield
Website »

More information

Signature Symphony at TCC celebrates the work of the late Ernie Fields, a Tulsa icon who had a career as a bandleader and trombonist. Fields’ music developed at a time when R&B, swing,...

Cost: $36 - $58

Where:
VanTrease Performing Arts Center for Education
10300 E 81st St
Tulsa, OK  74133-4513
View map »


Sponsor: Signature Symphony at TCC
Telephone: 918-595-7768
Contact Name: Tabitha Littlefield
Website »

More information

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The annual US National Arabian & Half Arabian Horse Show returns to Tulsa. You will be able to see over 1700 Arabian and Half Arabian horses competing in many divisions, including Breeding/In Hand...

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Tulsa State Fairgrounds
4145 E 21st St,
Tulsa, OK  74114
View map »


Sponsor: Arabian Horse Association
Telephone: 303-6964500
Contact Name: Kelsey Berglund
Website »

More information

Nimrod Journal will host its annual Conference for Readers and Writers on Saturday, October 19th, at The University of Tulsa. The conference will feature workshops on fiction, poetry,...

Cost: $10-70

Where:
Allen Chapman Student Union
440 S Gary Ave
Tulsa, OK  74104
View map »


Sponsor: Nimrod
Telephone: 918-631-3080
Contact Name: Cassidy McCants
Website »

More information

Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry will host its annual Conference for Readers and Writers at The University of Tulsa on October 19th, 2019.   The Conference offers the...

Cost: $10-$70

Where:
TU's Allen Chapman Student Union
440 S. Gary Ave.
Tulsa, OK  74104
View map »


Sponsor: Nimrod Journal
Telephone: 918-631-3080
Contact Name: Cassidy McCants
Website »

More information

Willkommen to four days of Oompah (or Bavaria or Oktoberfest) in Oklahoma  with nationally known German bands, authentic European foods, arts and  crafters MarktHaus, full carnival, and fun...

Cost: $10 at the gate or $7 in advance for adults. Children 12 and under are FREE.

Where:
River West Festival Park
2100 S. Jackson Ave.
Tulsa, OK  74107
View map »


Sponsor: Resolute PR
Telephone: 903-292-7885
Contact Name: Zachary Johnston
Website »

More information

Hello, Friends!   Fall is in the air! We are excited to present the 5th Annual Hugo Pumpkin Festival, a fun-filled event featuring a variety of entertaining activities for the whole family....

Cost: $ 6 - $ 20

Where:
Endangered Ark Foundation
2657 E 2070 Rd
Hugo, OK  74743
View map »


Sponsor: Endangered Ark Foundation
Telephone: 580-317-8470
Contact Name: Emily
Website »

More information

The Karbach Games and Competitions Arena becomes our own center of the universe Saturday at 2:00 PM for true fans of German bier. Why? Because it is ground zero for the Linde Oktoberfest Bavarian...

Cost: $40

Where:
River West Festival Park
2100 South Jackson Avenue
Tulsa, OK  74107
View map »


Sponsor: River Parks
Contact Name: Ryan Howell

More information

Folk Salad Radio Show celebrates its 20th anniversary with a potluck meal followed by a concert featuring Grammy-nominated singer songwriter John Fullbright and several other Tulsa musicians on...

Cost: $35

Where:
The Stone Church
4225 W. Fifth St.
Tulsa, OK
View map »


Sponsor: Folk Salad Radio Show
Website »

More information

Go into the woods and experience the return of this fantastic family production with performances in both Tulsa and Broken Arrow. Tulsa Ballet's Hardesty Family Foundation Children's...

Cost: $15

Where:
Studio K (Tulsa) and Zarrow Studio (Broken Arrow(
1212 E 45th Place
Tulsa, OK  74105
View map »


Sponsor: Tulsa Ballet
Telephone: 918-749-6006
Contact Name: Dan
Website »

More information

Abersons presents Pink Ribbon -- an exclusive, high-fashion fundraiser featuring a runway show by one of the world's hottest designers. Cocktails 6 p.m. | Dinner & Live Auction 7...

Cost: $1,250

Where:
Southern Hills Country Club
2636 E. 61st St.
Tulsa, OK  74136
View map »


Sponsor: Abersons
Telephone: 918-834-7200
Contact Name: Scarlet Henley
Website »

More information

America’s LARGEST interactive comedy murder mystery dinner show is now playing at the Hilton Garden Inn Tulsa Broken Arrow! At The Dinner Detective, you’ll tackle a challenging crime while you...

Cost: 59.95

Where:
Hilton Garden Inn Tulsa- Broken Arrow
420 W Albany St.
Broken Arrow, OK  74012
View map »


Telephone: 866-496-0535
Contact Name: The Dinner Detective
Website »

More information

Join us for Nimrod Write Night, the opening event of our Nimrod Conference for Readers and Writers weekend, on Friday, October 18th, at the Tulsa Historical Society, 6:30 p.m. Write Night is...

Cost: free

Where:
Tulsa Historical Society
2445 S. Peoria Ave.
Tulsa, OK  74114
View map »


Sponsor: Nimrod Journal
Telephone: 918-631-3080
Contact Name: Cassidy McCants
Website »

More information

Originally from West Africa, Kizomba is a partner dance that is a sexy addition to any Latin dance party. It is the fastest Latin growing dance in the U.S. Come and learn the basics plus a few more...

Cost: 109

Where:
THE DANCE PLACE
3310 WEST 42ND PLACE
TULSA, OK  74107
View map »


Telephone: 918-813-6514
Website »

More information

Flashes of vivid colors, laughter, dancers whirling around keeping pace with the energetic music, more laughter……this is what you will experience at Guthrie Green this Saturday,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Guthrie Green
111 East M.B. Brady Street
Tulsa, OK  74103
View map »


Sponsor: SAPAF
Telephone: 918-665-6419
Contact Name: Mohan Kelkar
Website »

More information

Signature Symphony at TCC celebrates the work of the late Ernie Fields, a Tulsa icon who had a career as a bandleader and trombonist. Fields’ music developed at a time when R&B, swing,...

Cost: $36 - $58

Where:
VanTrease Performing Arts Center for Education
10300 E 81st St
Tulsa, OK  74133-4513
View map »


Sponsor: Signature Symphony at TCC
Telephone: 918-595-7768
Contact Name: Tabitha Littlefield
Website »

More information

Tulsa in Harmony is a congregation of community choirs, lending their voices in one accord. They sing of their hopes and their faith and aspirations of a more unified community and a more unified...

Cost: Free

Where:
Gathering Place
2650 S. John Williams Way E.
Tulsa, OK  74114
View map »


Website »

More information

Where:
ONEOK Field
201 N Elgin Ave
Tulsa, OK
View map »


Website »

More information

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What's New


3.06: Representing District 73 - Regina Goodwin

A conversation with the state representative about issues in her district, plus what it's like being a Democrat in the state legislature. Plus Tulsa Architect Foundation's Amanda DeCort on the Blue Dome District and new music from Count Tutu.

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Oklahoma's Best-Sellers: Oct. 13

Based on total number of book sales at Magic City Books, Best of Books in Edmond, Brace Books and More in Ponca City, and Full Circle Bookstore in Oklahoma City.

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CLIFFDIVER on mental health, Tulsa and their new music

A Q&A with the Tulsa band that describes its sound as "Elevator Emo Pop"

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Oklahoma Best-Sellers: Oct. 6

Based on total number of book sales at Magic City Books, Best of Books in Edmond, Brace Books and More in Ponca City, and Full Circle Bookstore in Oklahoma City.

Comments

Henna Roso on food insecurity and songwriting

Members of the Tulsa funk, jazz band discuss their new album and what drives them

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