ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOX) – Federal officials estimate there are hundreds of thousands of victims of child sex trafficking in the United States. Many forced into it as teenagers.
Today, KMOX News continues our series Children for Sale with a survivor’s story.
“For a long time it really took away my humanity. My ability to interact with people,” says Katie Rhoades, who was kicked out of her house and living in her car. No job. Not in school.
A friend suggested an easy way to make money.
Be a stripper.
“And so I did,” she said. “I did it with the intention I was going to go into it for a couple months. Make some money, get an apartment, so I could get another job and get out. That did not happen.”
A growing drug habit kept her chained.
Katie was getting desperate to find a way out.
Special Report: Children For Sale
That is when a new girl strolled into the club.
“She carried herself very differently, had a lot of bling, a lot of jewelry, fancy clothes,” Katie said.
Her “boyfriend” was in the music industry and “just happened” to need girls like Katie to help him with “promotions”.
So she joined him in California. At first, was treated like a star.
“When I got there it was wining and dining. Going to fancy restaurants, going shopping.”
But soon enough the party was over. Katie was put to work.
“I started stripping in the clubs down there with the promise that I didn’t have to do anything more than just strip.”
That promise was quickly broken.
“The clubs that I worked in were basically brothels,” she said. “Some of them looked like they belonged in a third world country.”
She felt she had no way out — miles away from her family and friends.
“Within a couple of weeks my cell phone supposedly got stolen, which I know better these days. That was all my contacts back home, so I didn’t have any contact with anybody back home.”
She was put under lock and key.
“I wasn’t left alone for very long, actually at all for several months. I was either in line of sight of my pimp, or the bottom girl,” Katie said.
The bottom girl. The one who is been with the pimp the longest. Broken enough to stay and willing to do the pimp’s dirty work.
If being watched constantly wasn’t enough to keep Katie captive, the threats were.
“For me it was a lot of witnessing violence,” Katie said. “So it became clear very quickly that if I stepped too far out of line, that there was definitely violence around the corner.”
Katie says her pimp expected a return on his “investment”.
“The reality was that we didn’t have a choice to say no. We had a thousand dollar quota we had to bring in a night. If our pimp said we were going to a call, we were going to a call.”
A girl who failed to produce — or worse — tried to run, could be sold to another pimp or wind up in the dumpster. So she did what she was told, working in the club ten hours a day. On call all night.
“You know they call it the grind for a reason,” she said. “We lived, worked and slept that club and that work.”
The johns? They came from all walks of life.
Katie says, “some of my regular clients were law enforcement, a couple of them were judges, athletes, politicians.”
When Katie finally realized it was far riskier to stay than to run, it took her months to get out — to convince her pimp she could be trusted out of his sight.
That is when she slipped away, contacted an old family friend, and hid for several days until she could get into rehab in another state.
“It took me a very long time in rehab to even acknowledge I was involved in prostitution. I said I was a stripper and that was all I was,” she said.
Katie says her pimp still had a hold on her from miles away. At one point she even called him to apologize for running and ruining his reputation.
It took her several years to stop looking over her shoulder.
She still carries the scars.
“Men, for years, and I still have a hard time with this sometimes… for several years every man I saw was a trick,” she said. “Everybody could hurt me, everybody’s motives were impure, so if somebody helped me, it was what do you want?”
Today, Rhoades has moved forward. She her masters degree in social work and is the founder of Healing Action Network, an organization dedicated to helping and empowering survivors like herself.
In tomorrow’s report, investigators go to the internet for clues. But that doesn’t mean someone is going to jail. Children for Sale continues Thursday at 7:50 a.m. and 5:21 p.m. on NewsRadio 1120 KMOX.