Friday, January 21, 2011

Underage Sex Trade Still Flourishing Online

By Amber Lyon and Steve Turnham, CNN
January 20, 2011 3:51 p.m. EST

Las Vegas, Nevada (CNN) -- Her ankles and wrists are shackled. She's wearing used sweats in the bright colors of the jailhouse, orange, blue and yellow. She shuffles to the courtroom to face the judge, her mother, and an uncertain future.

Selena is a 13-year-old who was sold for sex.

She wants to go home to her house in the suburbs and the baby sister she hardly knows. And now, facing a sympathetic judge and a loving mother who wants to make sure she's safe, Selena is being told she can't go home.

"I want to go home and I want to be with my family, that's all I want," she tells Juvenile Court Judge William Voy, her face bathed in tears. "This isn't making me any better in here."

Selena was arrested by undercover police on the Vegas strip on prostitution charges. But although she exchanged sex for money, in the eyes of the law, she's a victim, by virtue of her age and the circumstances under which she was sold: by a pimp on the website backpage.com, a pimp who used drugs to entice her, and took everything she earned.

"It made me feel so nasty, I always just want a shower and get it off. I was like, oh, it's so disgusting," she said. "And it never made me feel pretty, not one time, not one time."

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For several years now, Mercy Ministries has helped victims of sex trafficking in our residential homes. The last couple of years, we have felt a tug in our hearts to get more involved with fighting this horrific issue. Mercy wants to be a voice that brings light to the disturbing fact that sex trafficking is happening in the U.S. – right in our own backyard.

Studies show that rescue falls short without a comprehensive residential program where victims can be cared for in a safe environment. This puts Mercy Ministries in the unique position of being one of the few programs of its kind. It is our desire to help even more hurting young women who have been brutalized by this horrific crime.  To find out more about how you can get involved and partner with Mercy, visit our new campaign website at www.endsextrafficking.com. Together we can make a difference to see lives transformed and hope restored to victims of sex trafficking!