WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- It isn't something that just happens abroad, and it isn't something that happens only to other people's children. Child sex trafficking is booming in D.C., Virginia and Maryland.
"This guy didn't come on strong, he didn't call me and talk about sex or running away," 34-year-old Holly Austin Smith said.
Holly is a married microbiologist and writer originally from New Jersey, now calling Richmond, Virginia home. But for more than half her life she's held a secret.
Holly says at 14, she was vulnerable and depressed. It was more than teenage angst and it was at the mall where she met a man who would change her life forever.
"I just felt special that he was calling me out of the crowd and he was connecting with me," she said. They exchanged numbers and talked every other night for about two weeks.
She said it was just like any friendship.
"What kind of movie stars do I like, what kind of movies do I like, where do I want to go, what do I like to do. By the time he started pushing for me to run away, it sounded like a good idea."
He promised to take her to a dance club. Instead, he took her to a motel in Atlantic City.
"There was a woman in the motel room, she was very, very pretty, he kind of handed me over to her and said get her ready," she said.
Holly's hair was dyed, she was given a fake name, a fake birth date, and no way out. The man and woman took her to the street and sold her body for money.
Holly explains what happened when she met her first 'John.'
"The two of them haggled on a price and she told him to go and get a car and to pick me up and to take me directly to the hotel room."
What followed was 36 hours of hell, a mortifying arrest, and a lifetime of suicide attempts and secrets.
Tina Frundt, Founder of Courtney's House, an advocacy organization, knows this story well. She helps sex trafficking victims firsthand, and knows the talk all parents need to have with their kids.
"When you're talking to our kids about this, you can't say 'human trafficking,' you have to say what the real words are, and the real word is a pimp," Frundt said.
Since 2008, Frundt's non-profit has helped more than 500 local victims. She's part mother, part activist, part cop and all fighter. Her goal? To open parents' eyes.
"If you're not explaining it, a trafficker's explaining it to your child and he's not telling the truth when he's explaining it."
After 17 years of secrets, Holly met Frundt. You could say she saved Holly's life.
"It was 2009 when I first met Tina Frundt. I didn't even know what happened to me, I thought I had chosen to become a prostitute. It wasn't until I learned about child sex trafficking that I understood how I was exploited and manipulated."
"We really need to understand that it's all races, it's all colors, it's all backgrounds," Frundt said.
She said teens from affluent areas are not immune. The prime target: mostly girls ages 12 to 14. She wants parents to know they are all trafficked in one place, and that's at the malls.
That's why Frundt makes it her life mission to go undercover and intervene. We can't say which malls and we can't show you her operation.
If you're wondering how she knows so much, she was trafficked too. Just like Holly, she ran away at 14. She ran into the arms of her would-be pimp and he took her to his home.
"And there were four other girls there who were also under16 years of age and then the next process is what every boy and girl go through and that would be the seasoning process and that is when he and two men came in and raped me."
After a year of prostitution, then juvenile detention, like Holly, Frundt had nowhere to turn. As she got stronger, and slowly pulled herself from the life, she helped others do the same.
"I hid people in my houses, where pimps came to my door, banging on my door, trying to bust my windows out to find them, and there were no services for anybody."
Courtney's House was born in 2008, named after her daughter, and every since she's given victims a voice.
"Meeting someone who has such a similar story helped me realized that I was a victim," Holly said.
Holly is now an advocate, writing about trafficking for Washington Times Communities. Frandt helps hundreds with a staff of just three. They both want this story to educate parents.
She urges parents to check their teen's phone, and their Facebook accounts, because she says that's how traffickers communicate. She says teens should never hang out unaccompanied by an adult at the mall.
Frandt has been hailed as a hero by the local organization, Free the Slaves, dedicated to ending slavery worldwide. She won the 2010 Frederick Douglas Award. It's an award that is given to an individual who has survived slavery and is using their life in freedom to help others. Find out more at www.freetheslaves.net
Learn more about Tina's organization, Courtney's House at www.courtneyshouse.org.
You can read Holly Austin Smith's regular column in the Washington Times' Communities section here: http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/speaking-out/