By Robbie Owens


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DALLAS (CBSDFWCOM) – While working to rescue sex trafficked girls and women, Dallas non-profit New Friends New Life has a doubly daunting task: they’re also taking on the multi-billion dollar porn industry, calling it a ‘gateway drug’ for trafficking.

“Pornography truly feeds the demand for sex trafficking, for human trafficking,” says Ashley Elsey, representing New Friends New Life. “Pornography is how these young girls are coerced into the lifestyle. They are groomed, trained on pornography.”

The group was enraged over the summer when Dallas played host to an ‘adult’ themed convention. Elsey, a part of Minerva Consulting, worked with NFNL to replace many of the billboards that advertised the gathering with ads that–if they don’t stop traffic— should at least get the community talking.

The billboard shows a young girl with her face partially hidden and a gut-wrenching statistic: “13 is the average age an American girl is sexually trafficked.”
“They are running away, within 48 hours, they are approached by a trafficker who is offering them food, clothing, shelter,” says Elsey. “They are grateful for it. They take it and then they are sold… as a way to pay for a debt.” According to NFNL, the typical price for a trafficked underage girl in Dallas is $90.

“It’s not always that we walk outside and we’re snatched off the street and thrown into the back of the car,” says a survivor and veteran of the streets that we’ll call Sarah, “a lot of times it’s this grooming.”

Becoming a drug addicted prostitute was not a part of Sarah’s plan. But, when she ran away from what she calls a ‘rage-a-holic’ home, she found comfort in the streets. And once dependent and drug addicted, paid a very high price.

“If our worst day had been back to back with our best day—we would never have gotten there, but it’s a slow almost reeling in…” recalls Sarah. “They [traffickers] were very nice to us… made me feel special, like I was somebody.” After years of therapy, she now knows that ‘kindness’ was actually ‘grooming.’

Now, 12 years sober, Sarah works to convince others on the street that there is another way. And she also has a warning for parents.

“I come from a good, wealthy family—I was a cheerleader… it doesn’t matter what social or economic background you come from—it can happen to anybody.”

When asked what her parents could have done differently, Sarah says they could have “paid attention” and just talked to her as though her life mattered. She says at 15 she started dancing in a nude club, by 17 her mother found needles in her purse, and still said nothing. “I look back on it now and realize that I was screaming for help… and yet they didn’t pay any attention.”

Although Sarah was older when she entered the life, experts say the trafficking timeline starts young. According to NFNL, the typical trafficked girl comes from a home where her father has abandoned her by the age of 4. By 11, she is sexually abused—most often by a mother’s boyfriend. By 12 she runs away and by the average age of 13, she is sold, for the first time…most likely online.

“We would never choose this,” insists Sarah, “no 14 year old would ever choose to be sold and manipulated for her body. We’re coerced, we’re groomed, we are talked into it.”

And according to NFNL, it’s happening right under our noses and more often that many would care to admit.

“In Dallas alone, there are 400 kids every night that are trafficked. In Dallas,” says Elsey. “This is happening in our back yard. And we have to say `not our children, not our city’.”

On North Texas Giving Day, NFNL is appealing to the community to donate $90—the average selling price for a trafficked underage child—to save one of those young lives instead.

“I didn’t think people cared, I didn’t think they understood,” says Sarah of the support that saved her, “certainly didn’t think that they would think I was a victim, much less a survivor… I thought they thought I was a whore.”

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