Playing make believe is part of being a kid. But for "Whitney" it was a form of survival.
"We told each other that we were actresses and that, this was our acting break and this was our audition," she said. "You tell yourself the lie that it's just a game but it's not."
"I was on drugs the whole time, trying not to be sober as much as possible," she said.
Whitney was trafficked for sex at just 15-years-old. She met her "John" at the mall.
"He was really nice, took me to get my nails done a lot...clothes, purses, shoes," she said.
Three months later, things changed.
"Really brutalized me," she said. "Told me I was nothing, that I was a piece of property and told me I needed to know my place."
For the next three years, "Whitney" was forced to sleep with men for money.
"I still hear from just about everyone who finds out what I do, 'there's trafficking in Colorado?' Katie O'Neel said.
O'Neel is the residential coordinator for Extended Hands of Hope, a nonprofit that provides safe housing and supportive services to sex trafficking survivors.
"It can happen to anyone and so we just need to be vigilant," O'Neel said.
"There's a lot of different ways that young people are being recruited and groomed," Sara Nadelman, the human trafficking specialist for Colorado Human Services said.
The most recent Colorado Human Trafficking Council Report shows that in 2015, there were 93 cases of human trafficking reported in Colorado. There were more than 800 cases across the country. Nadelman's department recently received a $1 million dollar grant to help combat sex trafficking on a local level.
"Our law enforcement partners really have boots on the ground if you will, Nadelman said. "Having them trained is incredibly important."
But O'Neel says, the first line of defense is at home.
"If your child doesn't understand their self-worth they're going to seek that somewhere else," she said.
"The most important thing is to talk to your kids and let them know this is a real thing that happens here in Denver, here in the United States," Whitney said. "It really does happen and people really get hurt and it's not a game."
If you or someone you know is involved in trafficking and needs help, there are resources for you in the Denver area.
You can reach out to Extended Hands of Hope on their website (http://bit.ly/2i4CPUh), to Street's Hope at 303-433-2712 or on their website (http://bit.ly/2gC4A6h), to the Hope Academy of The Denver Street School online (http://bit.ly/2z7OJHZ), or call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.
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