Closings: Schools, churches, day-cares and businesses

St. Louis County woman charged with sex trafficking of a 13-year-old girl

ST. CHARLES COUNTY, MO - A St. Louis County woman is accused of forcing a 13-year-old girl to have sex with men she met online.

23-year-old Shawntoi Shurn is charged with sexual trafficking of a child.

According to authorities, July 8th, Shurn and the 13-year-old victim took a ride-sharing service from the 400 block of Bluff Drive in St. Louis County to a St. Charles County hotel at 5th and Interstate 70. Once in the room, court documents say Shurn and the girl began drinking alcohol and had sex with two separate men. After, they received $250. Shurn allegedly gave the girl $50 and kept the rest for herself.

A local nonprofit called Healing Action is working to keep young girls out of prostitution. The organization said it’s difficult to know exactly how many youths are involved in prostitution in the metro area because it’s only been tracked recently. Katie Rhoades, Founder of Healing Action said they are serving about 65 active clients, 85% who started in commercial sex before the age of 18.

“Folks get introduced into prostitution or into the sex trade mainly by other people forcing them to be there especially if they’re youth or because they run away from home,” Rhoades said. “There could`ve been something going on at home they meet somebody else that person exploits their vulnerabilities and forces them out,” she said.

In this case, court documents show the 13-year-old was living with Shurn for 2 weeks and during that time, Shurn scheduled multiple sexual interactions with the girl and unknown men that Shurn met online.

While it is not clear how the 13-year-old girl became involved with Shurn, Rhoades says sexual predators use all kinds of tactics like asking them if they want to be a model or building a relationship with them and then eventually exploiting them to other people. She said they also tend to look for the girls hanging in the back of the pack, versus the leaders of the pack; the girls that show insecurity and respond well to flattery so they can win them over and force them into a life of prostitution.

Rhoades suggests parents talk with their teens about the dangers of sex trafficking.

“As a community, we tend to not want to talk about sex and we don`t want to talk about those things to our kids but that again leaves them vulnerable to not knowing that there are predators out there,” said Rhoades.