St. Louis, Mo. (KMOX) – Experts believe there’s a thriving underground trade in the St. Louis area – children being forced to sell themselves for sex.
“If you know where to go and you check it out online there’s just page, after page, after page of…let’s put it this way…potential victims,” says Pat Bradley, President of International Crisis Aid.
Today the group opens it’s first shelter for victims of sex trafficking in the region, the location kept secret for security reasons.
“In here we have 11 bedrooms set up. Each girl gets her own bedroom.” Bradley gives a tour of one wing of the donated building. More than 200 volunteers spent the last six weeks painting, refurbishing, redecorating, and reupholstering.
There are two sides. One wing of the building is for girls under 18, and the other for young women 18 to 24.
At the center of each side is a great room, with couches and chairs, and a massive Christmas tree ringed with gift baskets to welcome any new residents. ”This living area here would be where we would have group counseling and social time,” Bradley explains.
In each small bedroom there’s fresh, new, feminine bedding and a big basket of personal care items. ”Our theme is butterflies. The reason we want the butterfly theme is the whole thought of renewal.”
Experts say victims of sex trafficking are often lured with the promise of a better life, then kept captive with threats, violence and drugs.
They’re often shuttled from town to town to evade authorities.
“Tonight some girl who’s 17 or 18 years old is going to be looking at her closet trying to figure out, ‘what can I put on to wear to attract men, because I have to make x amount of dollars.’”
Bradley says the hope is to reunite many with their families, but that’s not possible for all. ”Studies indicate 30 percent of the girls were put into that lifestyle by their families, so those girls will have to have a different kind of a program.” He expects the residents will stay an average of a year.
Click here for more information on International Crisis Aid
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