Kids For Sale: Young, On The Street

Youngest Recruits In World's Oldest Profession

Prostitution is known as the world's oldest profession-- and it's attracting younger and younger recruits.

Annika, Mary and Christine were working as prostitutes while they were still in junior high school.

They're part of an alarming trend. According to a new study, between 200,000 and 400,000 kids nationwide are selling sex. Peter Van Sant reports.

"The younger you look, the more money you're gonna make," says Christine (not her real name), who worked the streets and hotels of San Francisco. "I look like I'm 12 or 13, 14."

Girls that young don't get into prostitution on their own. They are seduced by a pimp, with promises of love, security and money.

A former teen prostitute in Minneapolis, Mary (not her real name,) says her pimp told her "a lot of things that I wanted to hear: that I was beautiful, and he wanted to be with me".

For many young girls, dancing in go-go clubs becomes a springboard into more lucrative hard-core sex. Mary began dancing at a strip club when she was 15.

"You know men," he says. "They write their numbers down on the money, and say, 'Call me.'"

While many kids who fall into prostitution are from dysfunctional families, a surprising number are not.

Despite a supportive, upper middle-class background, Annika, now 19, says she began selling sex when she was 14.

"I went to a party with this friend and met this guy" who turned out to be a pimp," she says. "It happens because you feel like there is something else you need. You need attention from the opposite sex and you feel like you need love and you feel like you want to be important to somebody."

Both Mary and Annika first started selling sex in Minneapolis, but soon found themselves a part of a traveling circuit, known as "The Pipeline," where pimps put young girls to work in major cities like Las Vegas.

Annika says she slept in her pimp's car on her first night in Vegas. "And the next day, he sent me out there. Gave me a box of condoms and told me to go to work. It was scary. I just wanted to go home."

Annika wasn't bringing in enough money to satisfy her pimp.

"I had to stay out all night," she says, "and I'd go into the restrooms of casinos and lay my head down on the toilet paper and go to sleep."

Eventually Annika was arrested and able to get out of prostitution. Other girls aren't so lucky

Adrienne Sanders, a reporter The San Francisco Examiner, profiled Tiffany Mason's life on the streets.

"To me, it was inconceivable that little girls were so available to be bought," Sanders says.

One night in 2001, while working in Sacramento, 14-year-old Tiffany got into the wrong car. Her body, with its head smashed in, was found by a fisherman in Lake Natoma. Her murder remains unsolved.

"Tiffany could be anybody's daughter," Sanders says. "She got off track and never got a chance to get back on. A day doesn't go by that I don't think about her."

Norma Hotalling is working to make sure others don't meet the same end. She runs SAGE, a San Francisco agency that helps girls get out of prostitution. A former teen prostitute, Hotalling knows what she is talking about and she says she ended up homeless on the streets of San Francisco.

With SAGE, she counsels girls in basic life skills and helps them with getting jobs or going back to school. She believes we are dealing with child prostitution incorrectly.

"We have mischaracterized the men who are buying these children as johns, and they're not," she says. "They're sexually abusing children, and we let them do that. It's time to go after the pimps and the traffickers and the johns."