Recently, the Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force rescued 17 children from sex trafficking operations across Colorado and Wyoming.
It’s a startling reminder that this activity is happening in our own backyard.
"Oh, I was completely surprised," Sara Bratton said. "I was naive as everybody else."
Bratton didn't think that could happen here in Denver. But now she knows.
"Everyone one of my girls, except one was born and raised in the Denver metro area," Bratton said. She’s the director of Hope Academy of the Denver Street School, a private school specifically created for girls 12 through 17 coming from the sex trafficking world.
"These are tough kids," she said. "They've survived really awful, awful things. Now we have to help them get to a place where they can be productive members of society who feel really positive about themselves."
The curriculum is individualized to have both academic and therapeutic activities.
"They've seen things while being trafficked or exploited that the rest of us haven't seen," Bratton said. "That's not a choice because no one would ever make that choice."
Since the school opened in 2015, it's served 17 girls. None of them have graduated.
"The typical kid will run from their pimp or their trafficker up to seven times before they can stay out," she said.
Bratton hopes the academy will change that number and teach these girls their true worth.
"These girls aren't bad people," she said. "They're not bad girls that are doing bad things. They are at-risk girls who have been victimized and exploited by people they trusted."