From the outside, the Repeat Boutique looks like a lot of other thrift shops in Spokane. Inside, some might describe the stuff for sale as old, used, discarded garbage -- but store manager CJ Curtis sees its potential.
And just like the goods in her shop, CJ is on her way to a new life, one far from the one she once lived.
Once, CJ was a 13-year-old girl sold on the streets for sex, a victim of human trafficking, manipulated by a man in his 30s who befriended her and earned her trust. “This man approached me and struck up a conversation with me and quickly kinda learned what i was interested in,” she explained. “At that point in my life, it was drugs and pot and money because you know we didn't have much growing up. It was easy for him to reel me in that way"
The man she thought she loved, became her pimp. “[He] even branded me, took me to San Diego and got a tattoo with his name, 'Scotty Pimpin'," she said. “He took me and got me some outfits and just put me on the strip, and it was super quick that a man pulled over and I got in the car and that was that."
FBI Special Agent Christian Parker says CJ's story is a textbook case of child exploitation. “These individuals who are preying on these young people know exactly what to look for,” he said. In many cases, Parker said, the pimps hook the girls on drugs making them even more vulnerable. "They're going to do what they ask them to do, or it could be there providing shelter or the basic necessities of life, or they feel like they have to do what this person is asking."
What motivates a pimp like 'Scotty'? The answer, according to Parker, is simple: money. "I don't want to sound crass, but these juveniles are a somewhat 'renewable resource,'” Parker said. “If they're selling drugs, they can only sell the product once. If they're selling a juvenile, you can sell that juvenile over and over."
After a few months, CJ escaped the man who sold her, but getting clean and realizing what had really happened to her took years. "I did learn I was a victim, that I was targeted, that it wasn't all my choice."
Caleb Altmeyer helped CJ realize that. He runs HRC, an anti-human trafficking ministry. The Repeat Boutique is his brainchild to help raise funds for survivors and eventually employ them. "What we grew up thinking of just a prostitute on the street, once you hear their story, a lot of them are being forced to do this,” Altmeyer said. “They're being sold for someone else profit and that's slavery."
Now, he and CJ are working together to raise money for human trafficking victims and provide a shop where eventually other survivors will work. "We can't think of a better woman than CJ, who's coming out of the same trauma she's been through,” Altmeyer said. “They get to see hope and they get to hang out and realize life is not over and they have so much to live for."
For CJ, the chance to help through the shop continues to be a chance for her to heal. “Just being able to do that for other people,” she said. “To go at someone's darkest moment and show them the light and the hope."