WILLISTON, N.D – A sex trafficking survivor who reached out for help while in Williston in late 2014 says she was too terrified to testify after the way law enforcement handled the case.
“Jessica,” who reported to police she was assaulted after she failed to make her quota for her pimp, said the man was released from jail shortly after his arrest and showed up at the hotel where she was staying.
The man, Trevor Andrew Fryer, was rearrested two days later on more serious charges related to sex trafficking, but Jessica says she refused to cooperate with the prosecution after he continued to harass her.
The case against Fryer, 32, was settled last June with an agreement that means Fryer won’t be prosecuted if he remains law-abiding for one year. He pleaded not guilty to the sex trafficking allegations and he will not have a criminal conviction if he fulfills the agreement.
Meanwhile Jessica, who moved to the East Coast after her experience in North Dakota, is struggling to rebuild her life after eight years as a sex trafficking victim. The 26-year-old wants to become an advocate for other victims, but several misdemeanor prostitution convictions on her record have made it difficult for her to enroll in school or get a job.
Jessica, who spoke to Forum News Service on condition of anonymity, said she found Williston ill-equipped to help her.
New grant dollars recently awarded aim to provide comprehensive services for victims of human trafficking in North Dakota, including communities in the Oil Patch that have recently seen an influx of online commercial sex ads.
“They had absolutely no resources at all,” Jessica said. “They feel like if they take away the trafficker, that’s where the healing starts and it doesn’t. Even if somebody’s in jail, you live in constant fear. There’s so much more that needs to be done.”
‘Sick type of love’
Jessica traveled to North Dakota in November 2014 with Fryer, of Florida, who she says had been her pimp for three years.
“In my mind, I was in some sick type of love,” said Jessica, who started stripping at 17 and entered a life of pimp-controlled prostitution at 18. “Every time I’d leave I’d go back because either he’d be right there or I was just so far from home that I would just go back (to Fryer). I didn’t really know what to do.”
On their fourth night in Williston, Jessica knew Fryer would not be happy because she was returning to the hotel room $600 short of her $1,000 quota. She called a friend and left her cell on, instructing him to call police if he heard any kind of struggle.
When police responded to the 911 call, officers heard a female say “I have to open the door; they are going to come in anyways,” according to the police report. After the hotel room door flew open, Jessica ran into the hallway hysterical, wearing a bra and a towel around her waist, the report says.
Jessica told police she was sick of getting beat up by Fryer, who that night hit her in the face with a fist. The officer noted in his report bruises on her cheeks as well as her arm, which she said Fryer caused previously.
“I thought I was going to die, the way that he was choking me,” Jessica recounted last week.
Jessica also told police how they posted escort ads on Backpage.com and the money she made from the sexual encounters went to Fryer, documents show. Police confiscated his phone and $2,611 in cash in Fryer’s pocket.
Police gave Jessica a card with information for the local domestic violence shelter, but she said she didn’t want to go to the shelter and instead returned to the hotel.
“They should have connected me to a human trafficking specialist, not a domestic violence specialist. I wasn’t a domestic violence victim,” she said.
Arrested and released
Police initially arrested Fryer for domestic violence. The following day, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge and received a suspended 10-day jail sentence and an order to not have contact with the victim, records show.
Jessica was still in Williston, staying temporarily at hotel rooms arranged for her by victim advocates. She said she was walking to a store when she got a call from Fryer, the first she’d learned of his release from jail.
“I freaked out,” she recalled.
She called the county victim advocate, who assured her prosecutors were pushing for tougher charges.
But in the meantime, Fryer happened to show up at the hotel where she was staying.
“I literally walked out of front door of the Super 8 and he was parked right there trying to check in,” she said.
Jessica said Fryer also harassed her through Facebook messages, and while in custody arranged for someone he met in jail to make contact with her. She didn’t report the harassment to police.
“It took me everything in my power to call the police the first time,” Jessica said. “Why would I call the police a second time when they failed me?”
Lt. Detective David Peterson of the Williston Police Department said police would have investigated and enforced the no-contact order if the violations were reported.
“I wish that we were notified. Because that’s our ultimate goal is to protect these victims and bring somebody to justice for committing a crime against these victims,” Peterson said.
Fryer was rearrested two days after his initial arrest on the charge of promoting prostitution, a Class C felony.
“Human trafficking cases and promoting prostitution cases are more complex than just a simple assault type charge,” Peterson said. “There are investigation hours that have to go into these cases sometimes before a charge can be presented to the state’s attorney’s office.”
Jessica said she refused to testify after seeing Fryer released from jail so quickly.
“I was so terrified of him because I just knew in my heart that the system was going to fail me again,” she said.
A reluctance to call police was deeply ingrained in Jessica after years in “the life” taught her there could be serious repercussions for trafficking victims who call police. Years earlier, Jessica said her face was disfigured by a different trafficker after she tried unsuccessfully to run away from him.
“For me to make that step, and then they let him out that quick and he showed up at the same hotel that I was at. ... They could have got me killed,” she said.
Fryer maintained he was not guilty to the promoting prostitution charge. The case against Fryer was settled last June through a pre-trial diversion agreement, which suspends prosecution for one year. If Fryer does not commit a felony or misdemeanor during the time period, the charge will be dismissed.
Attempts to reach Fryer for comment through defense attorney Jeff Nehring were not successful last week.
Williams County State’s Attorney Marlyce Wilder declined to comment on the case because another prosecutor, Kirsten Sjue, handled the case. Sjue, who is now a Northwest Judicial District judge, also declined to comment.
Jessica said last week she wishes Williston police connected her with a human trafficking specialist because she didn’t think domestic violence advocates could understand her situation.
“It’s a complete difference between domestic violence victims and human trafficking victims. We already are basically shamed through society,” Jessica said. “When it’s hard for somebody to grasp why a person would stay in an abusive relationship, think of how hard it is to grasp why someone would stay in an abusive relationship that’s forcing them to sell their body?”
New state grant dollars recently awarded will fund staff dedicated to serving human trafficking victims, including in Williston and Minot. In addition, the Family Crisis Shelter in Williston is starting construction this year on a new facility that will include rooms specifically for trafficking victims.
On her own while in Williston, Jessica discovered 4her North Dakota, a nonprofit dedicated to serving victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, after seeing a CNN interview with CEO Windie Lazenko online.
Jessica reached out to Lazenko, also a sex trafficking survivor, who helped relocate her temporarily to Minot. Jessica credits Lazenko with helping her leave a life in the sex trade and inspiring her to pursue a career as a victim advocate.
“I grew close with her and she understood when I went back and forth, trying to get out,” Jessica said. “She did amazing wonders with me.”
Lazenko said a sex trafficking victim will often have more anger and reluctance to talk or accept help than a sexual assault victim. Having lived similar experiences helps her connect with the victims, Lazenko said.
“It’s magic. Then it’s not an us and them,” Lazenko said. “Then they can’t play that card, ‘you don’t know, you don’t understand’ and those walls come down and then you’re able to offer help.”