DENVER (CBS4) – The FBI calls forced prostitution one of the biggest criminal industries in the country, and they’re fighting sex trafficking in Denver.
“It’s like your soul is screaming to get out of your body… to leave,” said Hope Valor, who was a 10-year-old runaway when she was forced to have sex for money.
Q: “What did they do to you?”
A: “They pushed me into a bedroom door where a man who was in his 40s or 50s, about my dad’s age, and told me that I had to do whatever he wanted.”
The couple who took her in were sex traffickers. They were the first of many for Valor, who endured years of rape and abuse before finally breaking free.
Nationwide, as many as 300,000 children are forced into the sex trade. Only about 1% are ever identified.
“This is a tough crime to assess,” said Denver police sergeant Dan Steele, who works with the FBI’s “Innocence Lost” initiative.
A national raid last month netted 150 pimps, and rescued 149 children. He says while prostitutes still advertise on the street, pimps have gone high tech.
“If you have access to a computer, and the ability to travel, then you can make a lot more money online,” Steele said.
It’s also where they’re getting caught. Software called “Traffic Jam” is helping police find pimps by analyzing their online ads.
“It enables us to track these pimps even when they’re trying to throw off law enforcement,” said Emily Kennedy of Marinus Analytics.
Truckers are joining the fight, too. Truck stops can be hubs for sex workers. “Truckers Against Trafficking” has trained more than 160,000 drivers to recognize and report signs of sex trafficking.
“It’s a grassroots movement. It’s people who are standing up saying we can do something about this,” Kenis Paris, with the group, said.
Valor says everyone can help bring this hidden epidemic to light.
“It could be next door and you may not have a clue, but if you know what to look for and how to handle the situation, that child’s life is worth it,” she said.
Authorities say if you see something that doesn’t seem right — a child where they shouldn’t be, or with an adult that you don’t believe to be their parent or relative — you should say something.