Tech And The Turn Out Process

Over a cell phone, a pimp may be promising wealth, stardom and glamour to a young person in your life. On the street, people call this getting “turned out.”

And you probably have no idea.

Phones with social media – the same devices you rely on to stay in touch with a daughter, son, sibling, niece or nephew – are also predators’ ultimate victimization tool.

“I try to hide it from my mom, though, because she’s so nosy. But I’m at the age where I want to have a boyfriend now.”

Kasimira Bufford

Kasimira Bufford knows this from experience. She’s a petite, creamy-skinned 27-year-old with bright eyes and a beguiling smile.

She remembered her life a dozen years before our interview, when she got her first phone.

“Of course I’m talking to boys. I try to hide it from my mom, though, because she’s so nosy,” Kas said with a giggle. “But I’m at the age where I want to have a boyfriend now.

Soon, she fielded “a lot of messages from guys I know who made money on the street” because “I have cute pictures.”

The Sacramento native started posting those pictures along with jokes and messages to friends on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. She was eager to impress.

It didn’t take long for people outside her social circles to notice her seductive online photos, like the ones she used to send only to her boyfriend. When she posted them on her social media, it was easy for pimps to zero in on her.

Her desire to become a famous model and performer overtook any worries that “my mom would whup my a**.” Kas liked the attention she attracted through social media “likes” and an inbox full of requests to meet in person.

Just as she began to discover her womanliness, she willingly supplied photos to match the more risqué image she wanted to project. She enjoyed the attention and private messages that complimented her smile and her figure.

At the same time, she wanted to live the life promoted to teens in music videos, magazines and movies. She desired designer clothes and accessories, luxury cars and endless parties. Kas was smart enough to know that working at McDonald’s or a Smart and Final grocery store wouldn’t afford her that life.

Her cell phone allowed her access to a world that supplied the trappings of glamour, at a merciless price.

“I met a gentleman who saw me sitting down. He just seemed really nice,” Kas said. “We talked on the telephone a lot.”

Before long, she visited his house.

“We drink a little bit. I pop a little pill to make myself feel good. My body becomes very weak,” she recalled about that night.

“When I woke up, I was on a Greyhound to Fresno.”

During the next 10 years she moved around a lot – living mostly in hotel rooms and making money for various men. On a bad day, she said, she’d pull down $500 – $600.  

Most days Kas’s phone was blowing up with texts, come-ons, orders from her pimp about where to go, whom to meet, when the next john would show up.

The man behind those orders didn’t even need to be in the same city. Wherever he was, he could track where she was using locators built into the phone and its social media apps.

“I put my life in a lot of danger because the money made me blind,” Kas said. Although she used some of that money to shop and pay for hotel stays, most of it went to the pimp. “He takes everything, and when I need something, I ask him for it – so he’s basically the bank.”

He also was the employment agency for other young women. The pimp she’d call her “daddy” would put Kas on social media to lure people like her.  

“I’ll ask them, ‘Do you have a man? Does your man take care of you?’” she remembered, “’Because my daddy could take care of you better. You know he could put you in a house, put you in a car faster than how you’re doing right now if you’re in the life.’”

Her family worried and wondered about her safety, but there was little prospect of finding Kas. That’s because her pimp, she said softly, “isolates me from my family. He basically doesn’t let me communicate.”

The street life was riddled with secret code her pimp used to create accounts with phony pictures and keep Kas’ family from tracking her down.

With each dollar she made, her pimps’ greed increased. They didn’t pay Kas, and sometimes they beat her.

“We were on our way to Stockton and I ran out of gas on the freeway and he was sleeping,” she remembered.  “I was waking him up to tell him we were running out of gas and he literally punched me through the window.”  

Her circumstances began to take a toll on her body and mind. 

In one town, her pimp “had me out there for a week and every night (I was) getting bad bit by bedbugs. I had to sleep in in the bathtub because they were just everywhere.

“I think that was the breaking point for me,” she said. “All those bugs that were on me was God telling me to stop.”

That meant returning home after a decade away.

If you’re with a pimp — you’re being used.  It doesn’t matter if he’s a new boyfriend or if you’ve been together 30 years.

About pimps online:

On social media, don’t respond to random messages.

If you don’t know them, block them.

Be vigilant! Look out for negative statements, bragging and expensive promises.

Detecting female pimps online:

Don’t be too friendly with females on social media, especially if you don’t know them.

Question the intentions of strangers who suggest “meeting up” or “having drinks.”

Avoid random meet-and-greets. They could be a trap.  

With help from family and a counselor, Kasimira dealt with the shame and guilt around the way she’d lived, and entered a nine-month program designed to redirect her life.

“I got a job with Walgreens. I’ve been working there for seven months now,” she said. “It’s been cool. I’m a beauty advisor there so that is exactly what I want to do.”

She now understands that her cell phone is a tool over which she has control.

“I don’t use it for any type of sexual purposes anymore,” she said. “I never changed my phone number so I still get phone calls from johns and I tell them  sometimes they have the wrong number.

“Or I just tell them I’m retired.”

Why I Put It All Out There

I changed her diapers, combed her hair and walked her to daycare. My younger sister Kasimira is a part of me — a part I didn’t want to fade away in confusion and pain.

When I pitched my story about her to my NextGen  editors and mentors, I knew I was taking a risk. In general, journalists don’t cover stories about their own family and friends.  It’s our job to maintain a neutral and unbiased perspective when sharing stories and information. My sister represents many young women entrapped through social media and cell phone technology.

Losing my sister to the streets was one of the most difficult experiences in my life.  I wanted to give her the opportunity to speak her truth and to represent her experiences. I wanted to offer her the opportunity to own her story, in a respectable way.

“So,” a friend asked, “you’re just gonna put it all out there, huh?” Absolutely. I didn’t become a journalist to play it safe. I want to lift up narratives that need to be exposed.  I waited until the day before production began to reveal the identity of my interviewee. During the pitch session for this project, everyone’s mouth dropped when I told them. So I had to work hard to justify my reason for writing this story.

Veteran journalists warned me to be be careful with this story. But deep inside, I knew my first major  piece of journalism needed to spring from my  passion and awareness. I’m passionate about the development and safety of young women.

Perhaps because of that, my sister and I connected during our interview in a way we hadn’t  for many years.

Having my sister back in my life is a new beginning. Witnessing her healing process has opened my eyes to see, the power of self acceptance and self-love.