Teen Sex Slave Trade Hits Home

"What you see in the movies, what you see on TV -- it's not like that," Sara says. "They don't tell you the part about the rapes. They don't tell you about getting beat up. They don't tell you that you might die every day."

And popular culture also doesn't tell young girls that, once they are forced into the scene, there is almost no escape from sex trafficking.

So what made Sara choose to stay with her pimp in such a painful situation?

"People tell you, 'When I'm done with you, that's when you're done,' so you can't just up and leave," Sara says. "Do you know how many times girls have tried to up and leave? Girls have got killed just trying to up and leave."

The mental and physical pain of sexual exploitation, according to experts, is in part what keeps victims tethered to their pimps.

"The kids are not involved in this terrible crime as a result of choice," Allen says. "They are involved because of fear, because of force, and because of actual physical and psychological harm.

"These kids are beaten down psychologically, they are harmed physically, there are threats made against them and their loved ones or their families. [They] become ashamed of who they are and what they are doing and feel like they can't go back to the life they came from. This is not something these kids do by choice."

Many young girls like Sara enter a relationship with a pimp who poses as a caring friend or boyfriend.

"Some of [the girls] are snatched off the streets, but the vast majority are lured into this enterprise," Allen says. "These kids go willingly with these guys and only later discover that they can't walk away."

Even those charged with protecting her let her down, according to Sara.

"I never got arrested because my pimp used to pay off cops, or I would end up having sex with the cops so that I wouldn't get locked up."

After many attempts, she escaped from her pimp and got help from GEMS. Now, almost five years later, she still worries about being discovered and dragged back into prostitution. But she is also moving ahead, one step at a time.

"I'm proud of myself because at least I can go to sleep every night," Sara says. "At least I don't have to worry about being raped or being killed. I actually can go through a normal life without fear."

How to Protect Your Child

Discuss the importance of not trusting strangers, but most importantly, stay connected to your children. Sexual predators pursue disenfranchised girls and boys who need a friend.

"They target kids who appear to be vulnerable," Allen says. "Most kids have some problem in their lives [and] these guys hone in on that vulnerability. In most cases first they're the kids' friend -- the person who 'gets' them, who empathizes with them. These girls think the pimps are their romantic interest, that they love them and care about them. They get them into prostitution, then these kids lose the ability to walk away."

What happens to exploited children like Sara or Miya is similar to the case of Shawn Hornbeck, the Missouri boy rescued recently after behind held captive for four years. These kids were held by adults who convinced them that there is no way out and that no one cares what happens to them.

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