News 11 Investigative Report: Kids for Sale, Part I - News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

News 11 Investigative Report: Kids for Sale, Part I

This is Part I of a three-part series reported by Shelley Brown. Part III will air on Tuesday night at 6 p.m.

Many parents are still trying to learn how to keep their kids away from Internet predators. But what they don't know is that their child could be walking down the street and get recruited by a trafficker, reports News 11's Shelley Brown.

Theresa Spears is a survivor of teen prostitution. She started "hooking" in a Toledo park at the age of 14. "He said, 'I could show you a way to make money, but not get caught,'" she says about the man who recruited her.

Toledo is a prime recruiting spot, says Dr. Celia Williamson, a University of Toledo associate professor of social work.

"According to the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Toledo is a major hub in the country for the recruitment of children into the sex trade," says Williamson who, in 1993, founded Second Chance, a non-profit program now under the umbrella of Toledo-Area Ministries.

In 2005, the program really got organized -- the year the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI announced a major federal prostitution ring bust. Now therapists and clients "talk about relationships, sick relationships, domestic violence -- how to let go," says Linda Hanley, a therapist with the program.

The U.S. Government is well aware trafficking is going on in this country. "These young girls were forced to perform sex acts while the defendants watched and collected money from patrons," says former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Spears says she was targeted by pimps. "They could tell by my face that I didn't care about myself. They could tell that I didn't care about nobody else so they started pulling me into the streets -- and that's when stuff really started going downhill."

Pimps come in, they recruit "vulnerable" kids and then send them to other destination cities. "A lot of times, what they'll do is travel with the drivers, you know, and they'll drop off at the next truck stop and try to get back to where they started somehow," says Rob Wesolowski, who works at a truck stop.

Williamson says kids end up victimized, beaten and raped.

So why Toledo? "It's of course because we are unaware, we're uneducated," says Williamson. "The thinking around a runaway is that they ran away of their own free will, and our community sort of likes to sit back and wait for them to run back."

If the teens are rescued, they're likely to be treated as criminals.

"I was wrong, I broke the law, got sent to jail. But also give me the tools to be successful in this and move past this -- and they're not doing it," says Leann, an adult survivor of prostitution.

It's all part of a vicious cycle: Girls are rescued, but not rehabilitated. And, in most cases, they cope with their trauma through drugs.

"Then what we get back on the streets of Toledo is the drug-addicted crackhead that nobody wants to pay attention to because she chose to go out there on the street. And I always say, she's just the child that we missed," Williamson says.

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