PHOENIX - As I was led into the room to meet a victim of child prostitution, I was surprised to find not a hardened street kid, but a bashful and polite 14-year-old girl.
She is a minor, and a sexual assault victim, so we agreed not to reveal her identity or use her real name. Instead she asked us to call her “Lupita."
Her story reveals the trickery used by sex traffickers to lure children into sex acts with strangers.
“It's sad how these kids are manipulated into this life and it's not just a child that's homeless. Prostitution is no longer on the streets, it's everywhere; in our schools, shopping malls and neighborhoods,” said Lea Benson, President and CEO of Street Light USA in Glendale.
Street Light USA rescues children from the life of sex trafficking,
It was through the court system that Lupita came to them.
Not knowing what to expect, she began to tell me her story.
“I was getting bullied, [they were] saying I was ugly.”
And Lupita believed it. Even though she is a pretty teenager, that wasn’t what she saw in the mirror.
Her low self-esteem made her a perfect target for a charming pimp.
“He would say beautiful things to me and I would like that, so I didn't want that to end,” explains Lupita.
Victim advocates tell ABC15 there are two major types of pimps.
The “Gorilla” pimp will strong arm and beat his victims into prostitution, while the “Romeo” pimp swoons his victims by convincing them they are loved so much, they’ll do anything for him.
Lupita was lured by a 20-year-old “Romeo," who pretended to care for her and dated her for a month. Once she was in love with him, Romeo made his move.
“He would say, 'Oh here's a friend of mine, he wants to take you with him.' I would say, 'but I don’t know him.' And he would say, 'If you love me you would go.' I actually loved him so I went,” said Lupita.
She explains that she is a bit slow, but I saw just a naive child, like any other when it comes to affairs of the heart.
Lupita wasn’t sold on the streets. As Benson explained, the teenager was sold within the walls of the apartment complex where she lived.
She knew her new boyfriend was too old for her, but he made her feel loved.
Her parents were clueless as to what was happening to their daughter just feet from their home.
Each time her pimp shared her, Lupita felt violated beyond belief.
“Since the first time I went with the guy, it felt like rape,” Lupita admitted.
Pretty soon the "johns" were stacking up. At first, Lupita didn’t want to say how many, but then revealed the truth.
“It would be three guys a day. If I would say no, they would tell the 20-year-old and he would be slapping me.”
Lupita’s pimp was going from Romeo to Gorilla, but the young and naive teen still thought it was love.
She soon started realizing what was happening.
“Once I saw him getting money and I'm like, 'What's that money for,' and he said ‘nothing - go inside.'" This was the first time Lupita witnessed money changing hands.
Being only 13, Lupita wasn’t familiar with prostitution.
As she struggled to understand what was happening, she didn’t think she was being sold, “I thought of it more as lending and borrowing.”
It was on a trip to the dollar store with friends that Lupita saw a street walker, and realized she too was a prostitute.
“She was dancing on the pole and they were like 'Look at that prostitute,' and that's when I knew that he was selling me.”
Lupita eventually ran away from home. Her mother reported her missing.
After police found her, she was taken to a mental hospital where she treated for nightmares and flashbacks from being repeatedly raped.
Benson tells us, many child prostitutes will develop post-traumatic stress syndrome or PTSD.
Lupita graduated from Street Light USA’s recovery program and was on her way home after our visit.
She told me, she doesn’t know if her pimp still lives close by, because she has never revealed his identity.
But after much counseling, she now knows what he did was wrong, and she has developed a hate for what he did to her.
Benson told ABC15, because of the psychological trauma that victims of prostitution experience, it’s common for them to hide the identity of their pimps and johns.