Three years ago, two teenage cousins set off for a 15-minute walk to get milkshakes, strolling along the same path they had taken countless times before. But on that May afternoon, an unplanned diversion led to an unthinkable disaster. Soon, their innocence was lost forever.
Fifteen-year-old Kimberly and her 14-year-old cousin, Carol, grew up best friends in quintessential Middle America. (Their real names are not being used to protect their privacy.)
As summer approached, the girls made a habit of walking through their residential neighborhood in Toledo, Ohio, and down Main Street until they reached the fast-food restaurant Wendy's, where they bought Frostys, an icy treat.
Kimberly recalled their frivolous intentions as though it were yesterday. "I was just in the mood for Frostys really bad. Just getting Frostys and walking back."
Kimberly's mom, Stephanie, thought nothing of the request. "They came home from school. Their chores were done, and their homework was done. Dinner was going to be another hour and a half, two hours, so, yeah, go ahead. It's not that far."
What should have been a half-mile walk ended up taking the girls a lot farther from home than they'd ever imagine. During the walk, the skies became dark and it started to rain. In what seemed like perfect timing, a familiar face pulled up beside the cousins in a white Lincoln.
At the time, Kimberly believed the man in the passenger seat was a classmate's father who she knew as Mike.
"He was in the passenger seat and a girl was driving. And he said that his name was Mike, and they offered us a ride up to Wendy's, so stupidly I get in [with my cousin]," she said.
The white car never made its way to Wendy's. Instead, under the dark, rainy sky, Kimberly noticed that the man who was going to give them a lift to the restaurant was not her friend's father after all. He took a sudden detour and forced the girls into a brick house just miles across town from their home.
"We get into the house and he locks the door, and he sets the alarm and says, 'You know, you're not leaving,'" Kimberly said.
The cousins were in shock and had no idea that they had just entered the dark and secretive world of sexual exploitation.
It's estimated that there are currently 100,000 minors in America being forced to trade sex for money. Pimps target the most trusting or vulnerable teens to fill out their stable of working girls and lure them in with promises of riches, love, or in the most extreme cases, brutal force.
FBI Special Agent Mike Beaver helped launch the FBI's Innocence Lost Initiative five years ago to help identify children involved in commercial sex and the predators that recruit them. The efforts have led to the conviction of 308 individuals on a combination of state and federal charges, and to the recovery of 433 child victims, but it's still difficult for most Americans to believe their children are at risk.
"There are children throughout the United States who are being sold as prostitutes," Beaver said. "It's not uncommon to see 12- and 13-year-olds out. What we've learned is if you have adult prostitution in an area, there's probably child prostitution occurring as well. So it's more of a black market; it's more underground, but it's there."