Thursday, August 5, 2010

Debbie's Story: Sex Trafficking in American Girls - Part 1

Fifteen-year-old "Debbie" is the middle child in a close-knit Air Force family from suburban Phoenix, and a straight-A student -- the last person most of us would expect to be forced into the seamy world of sex trafficking.

Teen Sex Trade
The FBI estimates that there are well over 100,000 children and teens in the United States -- most of them young girls -- being trafficked in the sex trade.
(ABC News)

But Debbie, which is not her real name, is one of thousands of young American girls who authorities say have been abducted or lured from their normal lives and made into sex slaves. While many Americans have heard of human trafficking in other parts of the world -- Thailand, Cambodia, Latin America and eastern Europe, for example -- few people know it happens here in the United States.

The FBI estimates that well over 100,000 children and young women are trafficked in America today. They range in age from 9 to 19, with the average age being 11.

And many victims are no longer just runaways, or kids who've been abandoned. Many of them are from what would be considered "good" families, who are lured or coerced by clever predators, say experts.

"These predators are particularly adept at reading children, at reading kids, and knowing what their vulnerabilities are," said FBI Deputy Assistant Director, Chip Burrus, who started the Lost Innocence project, which specializes in child- and teen-sex trafficking.

And, he said, these predators are going where the kids are.

"What you can see, time and time again, is that the predators will adapt their means to whatever the young people are doing -- whether it's malls, whether it's ski slopes, whether it's beaches," Burrus said. "Predators ... are going to do everything in their power to try to convince young girls, young boys, to come with them and enter this particular lifestyle."

Abducted From Her Own Driveway, Teen Says

Debbie's story is particularly chilling. One evening Debbie said she got a call from a casual friend, Bianca, who asked to stop by Debbie's house. Wearing a pair of Sponge Bob pajamas, Debbie went outside to meet Bianca, who drove up in a Cadillac with two older men, Mark and Matthew. After a few minutes of visiting, Bianca said they were going to leave.

"So I went and I started to go give her a hug," Debbie told "Primetime." "And that's when she pushed me in the car."

As they sped away from her house, Debbie said that one of the men told Bianca to tie her up and said he threatened to shoot Bianca if she didn't comply.

"She tied up my hands first, and then she put the tape over my mouth. And she put tape over my eyes," Debbie said. "While she was putting tape on me, Matthew told me if I screamed or acted stupid, he'd shoot me. So I just stayed quiet."

Unbelievably, police say Debbie was kidnapped from her own driveway with her mother, Kersti, right inside. Back home with her other kids, Kersti had no idea Debbie wasn't there.

"I was in the house. I mean, it was a confusing night. I had all the kids coming in and out. The last I knew she had come back in," Kersti said. "It was just so weird that night. I mean, I normally check on all my kids, and that night I didn't. I should have."

Debbie said her captors drove her around the streets of Phoenix for hours. Exhausted and confused, she was finally taken to an apartment 25 miles from her home. She said one of her captors put a gun to her head.

"He goes, 'If I was to shoot you right now, where would you want to be shot -- in your head, in your back or in your chest?'" Debbie said. "And then I hear him start messing with his gun. And he counted to three and then he pulled the trigger. And then I was still alive. I opened my eyes, and I just saw him laughing."

Debbie said she was then drugged by her captors and other men were brought into the room, where she was gang raped.

"And then that's when I heard them say there was a middle-aged guy in the living room that wanted to take advantage of a 15-year-old girl," she said. "And then he goes, 'Bend her over. I want to see what I'm working with.' And that's when he started to rape me. And I see more guys, four other guys had come into the room. And they all had a turn. It was really scary."

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