Criminal Networks Prey on Teen Prostitutes

"This is something that I can't take back," said Jessica. "This is something that I am going to regret for the rest of my life."

Jessica is a straight-A student who didn't want to be identified. She was afraid she'd have to drop out of college when her father lost his job in the auto industry. As she confided to a friend on this Michigan campus, someone was listening.

"A man approached me and offered me, you know pretty much a way to pay for school," she said.

Earning $400 a trick. She said yes.

"You come from a nice family. With good values. Was there something about it that made you think, gosh things aren't that bad that I have to prostitute myself?" CBS News anchor Katie Couric asked.

"There was that voice in the back of my head saying, 'Oh, you know, things aren't this bad off.' And then you get the school bill," she said. "And you'd be like, we'll I'm not going to be able to get $14,000 any other way."

In 10 days, she earned $2,500.

"How did you feel afterwards?" Couric asked.

"I always felt dirty," Jessica said. "I would always go home and shower just a couple of times. And you know, you just feel scummy."

For Rosita, it wasn't about the money. It was a way to cope with her father's death from cancer. When she was 15 years old, a man walked up to her outside her middle school in Columbus, Ohio, and told her how pretty she was, and that he wanted to be her boyfriend. He turned out to be a pimp.

"He would take me to this office space that someone was leasing out to him and he would set up dates," Rosita said.

She spent the next three years averaging eight customers a day - $150 a piece - all of it went to her pimp.

"I just felt like I was put out to die," Rosita said.

"This is not the kind of problem America thinks it is," said Ernie Allen, with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Allen said prostitutes in this country are younger than ever, and they no longer all come from impoverished or broken homes.

"What we are seeing now is an increasing number of middle class kids and up - many of whom do it originally on a dare, or because they think it is interesting or different. And then find themselves trapped," Allen said.

In the last several years, a federal initiative to save girls from the street, called "Innocence Lost" has conducted thousands of sting operations in more than 30 cities - 700 victims rescued and 400 pimps locked up.

CBS News went inside a sting operation in Washington, D.C., where agents were searching for underage girls on Internet sites.

"They look young, and also the photographs are from a playground," Couric said.

All part of a booming billion-dollar business that's becoming increasingly high-tech and underground.

An undercover officer arranges a date with a young girl in an ad.

"Hey, how are you doing?" the officer asked. "I was just scanning the Internet, and I'd like to meet up with you."

A short while later, in room 1141, they agreed to a price.

"How much is two hours?" the officer asked.

"He wants to know how much it will be for two hours … $480," the girl responded.

"$480? OK, yeah I got that," the officer said.

A 17-year-old in the business since she was 15 was arrested. An officer said she would be interviewed to see if she wanted to get out of "the lifestyle."

The parents of thousands of these girls are flooding hotlines, looking for help.

Clint Lacy's daughter was 16 when she became a prostitute.

"It never entered my mind that the opportunity for her to go down this road would be there," Lacy said.

Living with her mother in Atlanta after he parents divorced, she ran away, and was lured by a pimp who showered her with gifts and attention.

"I went to great lengths to stay in contact with her," Lacy said. "In finding websites. And doing whatever I had to do to get a phone number for her."

Trying to get his daughter off the streets has cost him $30,000, but nothing has worked. He's desperate to have her home.

"I'd love to have her," Lacy said. "I'd love to have her walking through the door."

Rosita was rescued from the streets just in time. She's earned her GED and is now living in a group home.

"I feel loved," Rosita said. "And they do care. It's about helping to see who I am and helping me to get to know myself and showing me that I'm worth it."

Jessica said the best thing that ever happened to her was getting caught in this FBI sting, along with her pimp.

"You must have been pretty scared," Couric said.

"I was shocked," Couric said. "You kind of reflect and go, 'How did I end up here?'"

A first offender, she was released. Now she's taking a few semesters off, working two jobs and saving money.

"Do you think you'd every go back to doing this again?" Couric asked.

"No, you know, now that I've really thought about it, I'm just mortified that I did it in the first place," Jessica said.

For more information:
  • National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
  • Alternatives for Girls
  • Shared Hope International
  • National Human Trafficking Resource Center
  • Children of the Night
  • Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS)
  • Wake Up Youth
  • Second Chance Toledo
    • Katie Couric

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