Tampa, Florida - A 20 year old woman who doesn't want to reveal her identity says she became a victim of child sex trafficking when she was just 15 years old when someone reached out to her online.
She was vulnerable. Her father who she took care of was dying. She says she would learn later, "They were like twice the age they said they were."
The adult told her they'd take care of her and seemed to do that at first by taking the teenager out to eat and spending time with her. But she says when her father died the adult started to control her and even beat her but that wasn't the worst of it she says. Later the adult forced her into, "Stripping, prostitution, drugs - everything basically."
Michelle Walker is the executive director of a Bay area non profit agency. One of the programs she works with helps children who are victims of sex trafficking. Walker says of the kids, "They're looking for that father figure - someone to take care of them."
Walker says in the past four years they've helped several children as young as 14 years old and they've seen boys victimized too. The children are targeted in all sorts of ways, she says. Many are recruited into prostitution by their friends, who may have been approached by an adult.
Walker adds, in many instances, it's not an older man but a woman who is trying to manipulate the child or teen. She says in the past police have even broken up a prostitution ring in a local high school.
Walker says, "Some are runaways - some are from your average family - most are just looking for love and finding it in the wrong place." She adds, most times, children and teens who are having problems at home are considered easy targets. If the children go unsupervised, it's easier for them to fall prey.
She says parents must be involved in their children's lives to keep them from being recruited into sex trafficking.
Walker says it's critical that parents know who their children's friends are and where they are going. She says if your child comes home with a new cell phone, shoes, clothes and electronics that you didn't buy, you need to start asking questions. She says, "You cannot judge - you just have to be really careful and learn the warning signs and be aware that is really is happening."
You can learn much more about child sex trafficking at an event on Sunday, June 5.
It's being held at: The St. James House of Prayer Parish Hall at 2708 N. Central Avenue in Tampa from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m.
Speakers include: Bernice Powell Jackson, who is the Pastor of First United Church of Tampa; June Wallace, the facilitator for Tampa Bay "Community Campaign against Human Trafficking"; and former retired juvenile court judge Irene Sullivan, as well as Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor. There will also be a question and answer session.
The event is open to the public and is being sponsored by Women of Faith Building Community and Soroptimist International.