DENVER-- It's a problem that hides in the shadows.
"I think we have to see it. I think a lot of times people are really shocked that this is happening to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, because we think it happens over there, wherever 'over there' is," said Emily Lafferrandre, director of education and advocacy for the Denver non-profit prax(us).
In her work, Lafferrandre helps victims of exploitation rebuild their lives.
"It's not a cookie cutter situation," she said. "Every person's survivorship, every person's path to success, is very different."
According to the Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force, just in the last two years - January of 2012 to December of 2013 - they have been involved in 93 joint investigations involving the sexual exploitation of children. The number of children they've recovered rose from 49 in 2012 to 61 in 2013.
The most recent case in the metro area involved a child-prostitution ring in Lakewood, with police announcing on Thursday the arrest of six people. Cases involving children and prostitution are different, say experts.
READ: 6 arrested in child prostitution ring
Their rescue is only the beginning of their story. They have their own set of challenges, stemming from their young age.
One thing that sometimes complicates these cases: advocates say some victims are not always happy about their rescue, at first. They liken it to Stockholm syndrome, because of the relationship - however dysfunctional - that the child has with the person exploiting them.
"They're still children, and so there's a healing process," said Dr. Larry Curry, a child and family therapist with the Aurora-based The Curry Center.
Dr. Curry said their healing process usually begins with initial counseling or detox. What happens after that is not easy, whether they end up in a shelter or foster care. Since many are teens, experts say they usually don't have the skills to cope with the trauma in their past. At the same time, though, their age can also be their greatest asset.
"The fact that they are young, the fact that they are strong, the fact that they have a certain amount of endurance about them, is kind of an upper edge," Dr. Curry said.
Advocates believe those young survivors should be constantly reminded of that strength, as part of their healing.
"I think it's important to acknowledge the strength of a survivor-- that you are in this really difficult, traumatizing, exploitative situation. Yet in some way, you found a way to survive, you found a way to live and that is worthy of respect," Lafferrandre said.
The Colorado Network to End Human Trafficking runs a 24-hours-a-day, 7-day a week hotline. They can be reached at 1-866-455-5075.
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