“It hurt so bad,” says T Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, a young woman who was exploited for sex from the ages of 10 through 17, beaten, raped and tortured. To this day, she cannot tolerate the cold. Now a college student in Baltimore, she serves as a nationwide policy consultant for survivors advocacy groups.
She is not alone. While the exact number is unknown, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) reports that in 2014 1 out of 6 runaways reported to them was likely a victim of child sex trafficking.
“Traffickers are masters of manipulation,” explains Melissa Snow, a child sex trafficking specialist with NCMEC. “They take the time to learn what a child’s vulnerabilities are and use that against them. They create a false sense of hope.”
The reality is much different. “Every day was different depending on what city we were working in,” says Pettigrew, adding it depended on what services they provided: massage, internet, street or strip clubs. “I was always on edge and in fear for my life.”