GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The details of a recent federal child sex trafficking case provide a disturbing look into a troubled, violent way of life that no one, especially a teenager, should be forced to endure.
Federal court records show 31-year-old Eddie Allen Jackson of Grand Rapids recruited teen girls in Muskegon and then brought them to the area of 28th Street and Division Avenue to work the streets. Many of acts of prostitution involving the girls took place at a 28th Street motel.
The girls involved were ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders, authorities say. One was only 14 years old. They should have been going to track practice or getting ready for prom, not pushed into a life of prostitution.
“This is happening and it’s far more common than people realize,” Anny Donewald said.
Donewald knows the reality of the sex trade. She began dancing at strip clubs in college, she said, and later became an escort.
She eventually got out of the sex trade and made it her mission to help other woman still trapped in it. Her website Eve’s Angels is part of that effort.
While Donewald was never trafficked, she said she has seen the stages that lead to being convinced or coerced into prostitution.
Jackson’s case textbook. Federal prosecutors say he targeted vulnerable girls with” troubled backgrounds.” They were easily manipulated and in need of someone claiming to love and care for them — but that phony love could turn violent in an instant.
The first girl Jackson recruited was 16 years old, prosecutors say.
“He might have sold her an idea that he was going to be her boyfriend and got her emotionally involved like that, even if he was an older guy. He knew what he was doing,” Donewald said.
Because sex trafficking often happens covertly, many people aren’t aware it’s a problem, Donewald said. She said convincing people to care about the issue is one of the biggest challenges she faces.
“It could be your sister. It could be your mom. It could be your daughter. It could be your cousin. It could be your friend,” Donewald said.
But the efforts of Donewald and others are starting to pay off.
Jackson is the first person to be tried and convicted federally on child sex trafficking charges in West Michigan, rather than at the state level.
“We’re being very aggressive to protect the vulnerable and children are in that category,” Patrick Miles, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan, said. “Federal sentences are very long, so we both want to punish those perpetrators as well as send a deterrence message so that people don’t get into this business. ”
Donewald has been working closely with state Sen. Judy Emmons (R-Sheridan) to enact anti-trafficking measures at the state level.
“Legislation helping the survivors, helping the victim of what’s going on. Helping theses courageous woman that want a different life,” Donewald said. “I feel like we have an obligation as human beings to protect our girls, our children — there’s boys who are involved in this, too — and our women. And so this is everybody’s responsibility to step up and stop modern-day slavery.”