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Knoxville News Sentinel on “Princess Cut” at The Square Room in Knoxville

“A sex trafficking ring in Knoxville?” – Doug Banister, The News Sentinel

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Summary: Three young women met a victim of a Knoxville sex trafficking ring and wrote a play about her life. The purpose of Princess Cut is to raise awareness of the problem of sex trafficking in Knoxville. The play will be performed Friday, May 30th, 7:30 pm at The Square Room at Café 4.

By Doug Banister

The posters for the new play Princess Cut seem normal enough. Look more closely, however, at the subtitle: “A young girl’s reality inside a Knoxville sex ring. Based on a true story.”

A sex trafficking ring in Knoxville?

I had lunch recently with Danielle Roos, Kerri Koczen, and Kelsey Broyles, the three young women who wrote Princess Cut, to learn more about the story behind the play. Roos moved here from Iowa in 2011 after realizing Knoxville was a city that might be receptive to innovate theater. After an acting stint in Manhattan, Koczen teamed up with Roos, and the two women founded Yellow Rose Productions in 2013 with a vision for using thought-provoking drama to create awareness for social justice issues. Soon after Broyles joined them, and the three women began exploring ways to portray the crisis of sex trafficking on stage.

Roos is reluctant to share many details about how they met “Sarah”, the woman whose story is the basis for Princess Cut, other than that she agreed tell them her story in the summer of 2013. “She still lives in Knoxville,” Roos explains. “Most people who know her would never know her story. We want her to be able to ‘go public’ when she chooses to. It’s sad, but people treat you very differently when they learn these things about you.”

Here is Sarah’s story. Sarah was five when domestic abuse began in her West Knoxville home. A family member who had been asked to babysit Sarah by her parents brought her into a realty ring. Broyles explains that a realty ring is a collaboration between a realtor and a trafficker. The realtor lets the trafficker know that a house is going to be empty during a certain time. The trafficker arranges for the victim to be brought to the house where they have sex with the “customer”. Sarah was abused in this way intermittently from ages 5 – 13. She began to see a counselor in her twenties. Slowly, she found the courage to tell the story that would eventually become Princess Cut.

The three women met several evenings a week from October to March in Roos’ apartment and worked on a script based on Sarah’s experience. “It’s a little different than a typical play,” Koczen explains. “It’s more of a performance piece. We integrate music, movement and monologues to tell the story.”

How do they handle a subject as painful as sexual abuse? “There is no nudity, but the monologues are tough and honest,” she explains. “I’d say the play is for thirteen-year-olds and older.”

What about the “true story” part? Are there legitimate reasons to believe that sex trafficking really takes place in West Knoxville? If you google “West Knoxville sex ring,” you won’t find much. According to Dr. David Kitts, Program Manager of the Family Crimes Unit for the Knoxville Police Department, only two cases of sex trafficking have been reported in Knoxville in the past two years. However, a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report found over a hundred sex trafficking cases reported in Knox County in 2011. Why are the numbers of reported sex trafficking cases so different? Kitts explains that the TBI surveyed social service agencies across the county and asked them how many people were involved in trafficking. The largest number were the juvenile runaways whom the workers assumed had sex in return for food, safety, or other basic needs. The KPD, on the other hand, only records cases in which victims cooperate in bringing charges against a perpetrator. This rarely happens.

Is Kitts surprised to hear Sarah’s story? “Nothing surprises me anymore,” he sighs. “Atlanta is the hotbed of sex trafficking in the Southeast. There’s a huge machine there, sending girls on circuits throughout Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee.” The officer adds “We’re not Atlanta, but sex trafficking is going on here at a lower level.”

Why do victims remain silent? Roos hopes to explore the psychology of trafficking victims in Princess Cut. “Everyone wants to know why the victims don’t just get out,” she notes with an air of frustration. “But the psychology is complicated. In some cases, the abuser tells them how special they are. Later, when they realize that what was happening was not normal, they are so ashamed they don’t want to tell their story. Sometimes there is even a traumatic bond with the abuser.”

Kitts says that abusers make it very hard for victims to go to the police. “The abusers mentally beat down the victim,” he says. “They say, ‘The police will never believe you. If you talk, your story will be on the front page. And if you ever do report this, I’ll deny it.’”

Roos hopes Princess Cut opens up discussion about the problem of sex trafficking in our community. “Theater is a great medium for talking about issues that society is not comfortable talking about,” she says. “We want to open people’s eyes to the reality that this is happening. And we want to help victims get help.”

Kitts is thankful the women are raising awareness of sex trafficking. “If we can save one little girl next year from this, I’d be happy.” What can a victim do to get help? “Call 215-6810,” Kitts quickly responds. “That’s the Family Crimes Unit. We’re embedded in the Knoxville Family Justice Center, where many agencies working on this problem are together in one building. We want to help.” The Family Justice Center is at 400 Harriet Tubman Street, next to Vine Middle School.

Princess Cut will be performed Friday, May 30th, at 7:30 in The Square Room at Café 4, on the corner of Market Square and Union Avenue. A panel discussion will be held after the performance. For ticket and event information visit www.thesquareroom.com.

Local Organizations Against Sex Trafficking

Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking: info@ccaht.org

End Slavery: endslaveryTN.org, (615) 806-6899

Court Appointed Special Advocates: (865) 329-3399

Compassion Coalition: Compassioncoalition.org

YWCA: info@ywcaknox.com

Safe Haven Crisis and Recovery Center

Sexual Assault Crisis Line (865) 558-9040

View The News Sentinel article here: http://www.knoxnews.com/knoxville/life/play-aims-to-raise-awareness-of-sex-trafficking

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