On the day she met Marcus Thompson, the girl later told the FBI, she had been ready to leap from a bridge to end her life.
She was only 15, pregnant and alone on the streets.
And in this wounded child, Thompson saw a means to make money. He promised that if she left her small Illinois town with him, he would make her a model. Grasping for hope, she climbed into his truck.
But the promise was a lie.
Instead, in the summer of 2015, Thompson and his wife, Robin, forced the girl on a nightmarish six-week trek across the southern United States. Photographed in suggestive poses and marketed online, she was sold out of hotel rooms and truck stops to any man with the money and the desire to buy sex.
The justice system eventually would work well in this case in several respects. The victim was rescued and provided with treatment. The traffickers who exploited her were caught, pleaded guilty and were sent to prison.
But what of the men who paid to rape this child? What consequences did they suffer?
Not a single one was ever charged.
That same breach of justice is the norm in thousands of trafficking cases. About 10,000 children a year suffer the horrors of commercial sexual exploitation in the United States. Each victim on average is forced to have sex more than five times a day.
Yet the buyers who fuel the child sex trade are seldom held accountable. Most just blend back into their families, jobs and neighborhoods. Until the next time.
In the Thompson case, the victim, too young for a driver’s license, told the FBI she was beaten once for attempting to escape and was threatened with being “thrown to the alligators” if she tried to run again. Marcus Thompson, according to federal authorities, raped the girl five times.
At a hospital in St. Louis, the abuse finally ended when the girl was identified as a sex-trafficking victim. The Thompsons, based on her descriptions, were arrested.
Marcus Thompson is now serving a life sentence. Robin Thompson, who helped place the online ads and book the hotel rooms, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
At Robin Thompson’s sentencing, Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan described the couple’s crimes as among the worst he had seen in 16 years on the federal bench.
In her victim impact letter, read by Reagan at the sentencing, the girl wrote, “It’s hard to wake up every day and remember the people I had sex with.”
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