Kids living as prostitutes in Denver: 'This is everywhere'

9:53 PM, Dec 22, 2011   |    comments
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It's the life "Rita" from Lakewood talks about like other 21-year-olds talk about college. She asked 9NEWS to hide her face and not share her real name.

"I got manipulated into prostitution," Rita said. "Somebody rolls up on you when you have nothing at all and asks you if you want to make any money, and you do."

"The life" was her life.

"Of course you're going to fall into drugs, 'cause you don't want to do it, you don't want to be there, you don't want to feel it, you don't want it." Rita said. "But you do it because he [the pimp] is going to take care of you."

"Does he?" asked Anastasiya Bolton, the Crime and Justice Reporter for 9NEWS.

"Of course not," Rita answered.

Police tell us her story is like so many others they see on the streets and online - that's where a lot of the sex trade happens these days.

"I was going for, $40, $50," Rita said. "When I was on Craigslist, I was $250, $150 [for] an hour. Outcalls, in-calls, it just depended on what it was."

She ran away from home at 12 after being sexually molested by an adult on a school field trip and raped soon after. Rita was on the run until about 17, working for various pimps.

She left some and tried to leave others.

"Then I got tied to a bed and beat," Rita said. "Some of them you just can't run away from. They're not going to let you."

Denver Police say as of the end of November this year, they've arrested 32 pimps. Some were exploiting adult prostitutes and others teens.

Cpt. Bill Nagle of the Vice Drug Control Bureau can't quantify the problem.

"People will ask me, we've had this exponential growth of pimping cases that we have, 'Does that mean it's on the rise?' I would say, 'I can't say that at all,'" Nagle said. "We are just scratching the surface on it. It's hard to get a handle on what that number might be. Everyone wants to ask, 'How many girls are involved in this in the Denver area?' Well, if we knew where they were, we'd try to get them out."

That's where a $290,000 federal grant to fight Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children might help. It will pay for two Denver detectives to work full-time with the FBI's Rocky Mountain Safe Streets Task Force. With some additional funding, DPD is hoping to have this going for two years.

Denver is one of five cities in the nation to get the money.

"Denver got this grant and it's going to go a long ways to helping us address this problem," Phil Niedringhaus, supervisory special agent at the FBI's Rocky Mountain Safe Streets Task Force, said. "That's the thing - this isn't in the seedy part of town. This isn't in the dark part of Colfax, this is everywhere in our community. This is in your neighborhood, it's here."

The task force works to combat violent crime in the Denver area, including bank robberies, fugitives, extortions and human trafficking. A number of agencies, including Denver Police, Aurora, and Lakewood Police, as well as the Jefferson County and Arapahoe County Sheriff's Offices are members. The Colorado State Patrol and Federal Protective Services are also members.

"It's probably one of the saddest crimes that's occurring out there," Niedringhaus said. "At the end of the day, young children are being victimized and forced into a life of prostitution."

Denver Police say since January 2006, they have rescued 45 kids and teens.

These were the kids who were either victims of commercial sexual exploitation or were at risk to be victimized. Twelve young people like that were rescued this year alone.

"It does not know economic boundaries, does not know racial boundaries, does not know ethnic boundaries," Nagle said. "It could be any of our children, could be your daughter, your niece - it could affect you."

Rita doesn't roam the streets or live in hotel rooms anymore.

She has an actual job, but life is still hard.

"I see myself struggling," she said. "I want it to not be so hard. I work all the time and I have nothing to show for it."

Her past life is always with her.

"Every time I leave the house, every time I look in the mirror. Every time I brush my teeth, every time I look at myself," she said.

She sees where she was and where she's going now.

"Trying to help people, gotta talk about it," she said. "Nobody is going to get out there and do anything about it if nobody talks about it."

Nagle says one of the issues dealing with victims like Rita is that Denver has no facilities to help people who were just taken off the street. A number of teen prostitutes go to jail first, but then there are no longer-term solutions.

Kairos Youth and Family Services run by Loren Fardulis says he will open what he believes is the first facility in Colorado to deal with teenage victims.

Fardulis told 9NEWS he founded the nonprofit last March and his hoping this coming March to open a treatment and recovery center for victims of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.

The first of the four homes called "Amy's House" will be located in Larimer County, and it will house eight girls. Fardulis hopes to open three more homes to house a total of 32 girls.

For more information, visit www.kairosyfs.org.

In Lakewood, where Rita is from, police tell 9NEWS between 2010 and 2011, they arrested and forwarded to prosecution eight cases of traffickers or pimps. They're in different stages in the court system.

Lakewood could also have as many as 18 open pimping cases in the near future.

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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