SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- According to national statistics, within 72 hours of being on the street, an underage runaway is solicited for sex. That is what happened to one 19-year-old girl who feared for her life while working in Springfield as a prostitute.
"I've gotten beat up; I've gotten robbed by my tricks. I've gotten smacked, I've been choked out because I didn't do what the client wanted or even like a certain thing," she said.
At 14 years old, the teen started selling her body. Sexual contact with men was not foreign to the girl. As a child, her father molested her. After he went to prison, her drug-addicted mother sent her clients and said "turning tricks" was okay to do. She went to stay with her grandparents, but eventually ran away from home and turned to selling sex.
"I didn't have nowhere to go, no food, so I was actually using the money to get hotel rooms and food and clothes and stuff like that," she said.
Her boyfriend became her pimp and he would set clients up for her. Afterwards, he took the money she made.
"He was like you aren't going to be walking the streets or anything," she said. "And he just made it sound so good like I was going to be okay."
She set up a profile on backpage.com, a classified website. Her boyfriend/pimp would shuttle her from place to place to have sex. Her typical clients: middle-aged white men.
"I've had truck drivers and lawyers and officers, I've had a few officers that I've done. Judges, I've done a few judges too," the teen rattled off. "After a while, I was just okay with it. I just stopped caring."
She may have stopped caring, but she never stopped being afraid, especially after some of her call girl friends were found dead.
"I know females that I used to be real cool with in Kansas City that's been found in the Missouri River or cut up in boxes or laid on the side of the street or beat up or just certain things that happened to them that could have happened to me," she said. "It's a scary thing because you never know who you are going to meet and what they are going to do to you or if you are going to be alive at the end of the client."
Many teenage runaways fall victim to sex crimes.
"These kids run away from home and desperately look for a roof over their head, a way to feed themselves, and unfortunately come into contact with some of these sexual predators," said FBI Acting Supervisor Special Agent Alan Peak. "Essentially their means of communication with the outside world is taken away and, at that point, they feel helpless and they are stuck in the confines of that room and abide by the rules of the individual who put them there."
Agent Peak noted many predators take advantage of the runaways or use the internet to stalk child victims.
"Some of it's through the Internet. Children that are unsupervised on the Internet come in contact with predators that are out there, get lured into child pornography and other crimes such as child prostitution," said Peak.
National hotline databases point to more than 730 calls placed about teenage sex crimes last year in Missouri. The FBI has taken an aggressive stance against child sex crimes. The agency has a Crimes Against Children program to help stop child sexual exploitation and put predators to justice.
"It's extremely serious. Those are some of our most vulnerable victims. And the FBI takes those cases quite seriously," said Peak. "We put the resources forward to initiate investigations and work those investigations aggressively so that we can identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice."
In Springfield, services like the Harmony House, Victim Center, and Rare Breed help get child sex workers out of the "industry."
"It's a much bigger problem than people realize here," said Brooke Shelby, youth worker at the Rare Breed. "There are youth that come here on a regular basis, whether they are 17, 14, male, female, they are forced to come here and do things that they never anticipated, that they never wanted to do."
The center has an outreach program for homeless or at-risk youth to keep them off the streets and on the right path.
"There's an atmosphere here where they can really disclose what's going on with the staff, they can talk about what's going on, what's hurting them, why they went out. And, at that point, we try to be a one-stop shop for those youth," said Shelby. "We really want to empower them to get out of the situation that they are in and just move onto the bright futures that they have."
A bright future is what the 19-year-old former prostitute wants. She is part of the Rare Breed program and has a new purpose for her life. With help, she hopes to get an education, become a nurse, and one day start a family.
"I'm special and I'm pretty," said the girl. "And I can do way much more with my mind, than be out here selling my body."