LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — The victims of human trafficking, a problem that has a presence in Southern California, are younger than you may think.
Known as “The Game” to insiders of the $32-billion industry, human trafficking is a modern-day equivalent of slavery — but in this case, young girls are taken and sold for sex.
Two former teen prostitutes shared their stories with CBS2/KCAL9’s Melanie Woodrow, revealing some of the dismal details that embody the reality of sex trafficking.
One girl, calling herself Kim, ran away from an abusive home at the age of 15. Another girl on the street approached her and convinced her that she could make money through dancing. Instead, the girl left Kim in a stranger’s house.
“It just so happened that the guy ended up to be a pimp,” Kim said.
Through the beating the pimp gave her, Kim was initiated into the sex trade.
Another girl, going by the name of Amber, was victimized at the age of 13, when a 16-year-old acquaintance dropped her off at his uncle’s home, where she was sold for drugs.
“Basically, [he] kind of sold me to him for marijuana,” Amber said.
The teen, whose mother worked as a prostitute for her father, says she understood the situation immediately.
“It’s all I’ve ever known,” Amber said.
After both girls were initiated into The Game, there appeared to be no way out, as the pimps maintained control over them with threats that they were being watched.
“He told me that if I left, he had people watching me,” Kim said. “And then, like, as the other girls started to leave, he was like, ‘Oh yeah, well, you know she’s dead.'”
While sex trafficking is commonly believed to be a tragedy confined to other parts of the world, a couple of undercover rides with Compton sheriff’s station detectives revealed a large number of suspected prostitutes along Compton Boulevard and Long Beach Boulevard.
“These streets? Flooded,” an undercover agent said. “Flooded all day, all night.”
During the undercover ride, which resulted in more suspected prostitutes walking “the track” during the day than at night, girls were seen getting into cars and going to nearby side streets.
While Kim and Amber say they never walked “the track,” they say their pimps preferred to sell them online, on websites including Backpage and My Redbook.
The ads on these sites are clear, but legal.
While the ads feature pictures, prices and phone numbers, the explicit detail of ‘sex for sale’ is absent, along with the girls’ ages.
“If they’re juveniles, they’re not going to put they’re juveniles on here,” the detective said. “They’re going to refer to them being young, energetic.”
Meanwhile, Kim and Amber were forced to produce large profits on a regular basis, keeping none of it for themselves.
“Every night, he’d expect me to come back with at least $2,000,” Kim said. “If that didn’t happen, then ‘OK, well the other girls are going to go get their nails and hair done, but you can’t — you can’t get any new clothes’, you know, stuff like that.”
Undercover detectives from the Compton Sheriff’s station suggest that the pimps are often also members of gangs, and that the profit made off selling girls for sex brings in more money than selling guns or drugs.
“Because there’s a lot of money involved, they get away with it,” an undercover detective said. “They know it’s hard for us to detect, it’s hard for us to put everything together, it’s hard for the courts to convict them.”
The abundant evidence necessary for detectives and prosecutors to win a conviction on sex trafficking charges becomes even more challenging to acquire when a girl finds herself emotionally attached to her pimp. Amber considered her most recent pimp, who is currently awaiting trial and may face up to 15 years, to be her boyfriend.
The customers of the sex trade, meanwhile, include a surprisingly wide range of clientele.
“Doctors, some lawyers,” Kim suggested. “People that just worked in corner stores.”
Kim and Amber were able to escape with the help of undercover detectives, and they began a new life through Van Nuys’ Children of the Night, a privately funded nonprofit organization through which the director, Lois Lee, has been rescuing children from prostitution since 1979.
“We’ve helped over 10,000 children for sure, and we stopped counting eight, 10 years ago,” Lee said.
Lee, whose shelter houses victims as young as 11 years old, believes it is the duty of social services to intervene on behalf of abused or neglected children before predators have the opportunity to strike.
“We’ve turned our back on these children,” Lee suggested. “We’ve created the problem.”
For Kim and Amber, it was not too late to be able to continue their lives and look forward to their futures.
“I definitely feel like I got a lot of my childhood back,” Kim said. “It’s like, no one controls me but me. You’re not going to tell me what to do, unless it’s something that’s going to better my life.”
The undercover detectives from the Compton sheriff’s station just recorded their first conviction for human trafficking in Compton. The pimp was convicted on a human trafficking violent felony and has been sentenced to eight years; he will be required to register as a sex offender.
More information on the Children of the Night organization can be found at its website. The group can also be reached via a 24-hour hotline at (800) 551-1300.