Somebody's Daughter: The Hidden Story of America's Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them

Somebody's Daughter: The Hidden Story of America's Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them

by Julian Sher

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Overview

Somebody's Daughter: The Hidden Story of America's Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them by Julian Sher

They are America’s forgotten children, the hundreds of thousands of child prostitutes who walk the Las Vegas Strip, the casinos of Atlantic City, the truck stops on interstates, and the street corners of our cities. Many people wrongly believe sex trafficking involves young women from foreign lands. In reality, the majority of teens caught in the sex trade are American girls--runaways and throwaways who become victims of ruthless pimps.

            In Somebody's Daughter: The Hidden Story of America's Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them, meet the girls who are fighting for their dignity, the cops who are trying to rescue them, and the community activists battling to protect the nation's most forsaken children. Author Julian Sher takes you behind the scenes to expose one of America’s most underreported crimes: A girl from New Jersey gets arrested in Las Vegas and, at great risk to her own life, helps the FBI take down a million-dollar pimping empire. An abused teenager in Texas has the courage to take the stand in a grueling trial that sends her pimp away for 75 years. Survivors of the sex trade in New York, Phoenix, and Minneapolis set up shelters and rescue centers that offer young girls a chance to break free from the streets. “The sex trade is the new drug trade,” says one FBI special agent, and Somebody's Daughter is a call to action, shining a light on America’s dirty little secret.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781613748084
Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 04/01/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 323,631
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Julian Sher is an award-winning investigative journalist, TV writer and director, and the author of six books. The New York Times, USA Today, CNN, and the BBC have featured his reporting on child abuse. 

Read an Excerpt

Somebody's Daughter

The Hidden Story of America's Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them


By Julian Sher

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2013 JournalismNet Enterprises Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61374-935-7



CHAPTER 1

The Girl from Jersey


Little girls don't dream of growing up to become prostitutes. Maria dreamed of becoming a pastor at her local Methodist church. Dreams are important if you come from a working-class community like Maria's, not far from Atlantic City's casinos, that sees little of the gambling wealth. Simple homes with sparse lawns line the streets. It's a hardscrabble place, but the people make do. On one road leading into the town, a blue welcome sign is adorned with a small rainbow. There are no rainbows on the two signs near the local school that boast the building is not only DRUG FREE but also WEAPONS FREE.

Not far from the school, a stained-glass window and a brown wooden cross dominate a church on Main Street. This was where a young Maria once came to sing every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with her mother. "I wanted to be in choir," she says.

She was the dutiful youngest daughter of two loving and hardworking parents. She never saw much of her father; he held down two jobs in the service industries. Her mom stayed at home to raise their children. Maria was the baby of the family, with older sisters. "I used to sleep with my mom every night. And I used to hold her every night," Maria says. "I was my mother's little girl."

She was pretty enough to be featured as a model in advertisements for some local stores, wearing cute little dresses and hats. In school, she was attentive and industrious. "I was a great kid," she says. "I was on the honor roll."

But as Maria grew older, the inevitable tensions with her parents set in. She felt a certain unbridgeable distance between her and them. They were traditional and conservative Hispanic; "really old school" is how Maria puts it. And, though loving, they were never very demonstrative. "My parents didn't ever really hug me or kiss me," she says. "It is not like they didn't show me love. The way they showed love was really different."

The differences and distance came into play after Maria, headstrong, tested her boundaries one afternoon to a breaking point. Prostituted children are made, not born, forced onto the streets by myriad circumstances beyond their control, usually some kind of trouble at home and often a trigger event that pushes them over the edge. For Maria, it began in May 1998, when she had just turned twelve. Feeling hemmed in by her parents' rules, she was looking for adventure. "I was never allowed out of the house, ever," she says. "I just wanted to be independent."

She called up her cousin's eighteen-year-old boyfriend, whom she had met a few times at church. "I just wanted to hang out," she recalls. "I wasn't really supposed to go in cars with guys. But he was my cousin's boyfriend. I didn't think he was going to do anything."

He had other things in mind. "He raped and beat me. For two days. Then he kept me in a closet," Maria says. "I pissed on myself and shat on myself. And then he left me on the road." She made it home after two days, but initially she did not tell her parents what had happened, the first of many secrets. They assumed she had just run away briefly. She overcame her shame two weeks later and finally told the truth about the assault. By the time police were called in, scant physical evidence remained. It was her word against that of her assailant. He was not forced to serve any jail time and got off with probation.

Maria was angry and hurt, but then things got worse. At least in the eyes of a troubled twelve-year-old, her family seemed to react to the attack not by showing concern and compassion but by blaming her. They chastised her for misbehaving, for leaving the house without permission, for being wild. The rape never would have happened if she had stayed at home like she was supposed to, they said. Why couldn't she be a good girl?

"They never understood," she says. "My mom never talked to me about it. She was so old-fashioned. It is just the way she was raised. I think that is why she was so sad. I was her little girl and she didn't know what to say."

Deep down, Maria knew that her parents cared about her and that in their own way they were trying their best to cope. They sent her to a psychologist and had doctors pump her with the antidepressants Paxil and Prozac.

For the next year, Maria's turmoil deepened. She turned thirteen, still searching for easy answers to life's complications, in many ways no different from most struggling adolescents. Except the shadow of the rape hung over her. She didn't want drugs to make the pain go away; she wanted acknowledgment of her pain. "What I needed was a hug," she says, "and somebody to tell me that they loved me. That was really all I needed."

She thought maybe she would find that love and acceptance on the street. She ran away from home a few times after the rape but never for more than a day. She first got the idea to leave home when she was watching a movie on the Lifetime Channel, sort of a teenage version of Pretty Woman, the Julia Roberts fairy tale about a prostitute who finds romance and riches. Maria sat transfixed as the story of a sixteen-year-old girl played out on the screen before her.

"This little girl was a hooker, and I saw how much money she made," Maria remembers. "Her mom was looking for her. And I think I kind of wanted my mom to look for me. I wanted her to show me more love. You know what I mean?"

Three days shy of her fourteenth birthday, Maria ran away again. This time for good.

Maria was not alone. Every year, more than one and a half million children run away from, or are kicked out of, their homes in the United States. Thankfully, most return within hours or days. But as many as a third of them, perhaps more, end up selling their bodies to survive.

For Maria, the gambling and tourism haven of Atlantic City was just down the road.


* * *

The gaming capital of the Northeast is a cheesier Las Vegas. In the Nevadan city, the sparkle and glitter goes on for miles; the down- in-the-gutter sleaze is pushed to the extremities. In Atlantic City, the sleaze is in your face. On one side of Atlantic Avenue lies a concert hall for the likes of Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond. On the other side is a bar that promises "sTopless GoGo," with the T capitalized to make it clear the nudity is nonstop as well. GIRLS ON A SWING and OVER 25 GORGEOUS DOLLS, other signs boast.

Although the city's permanent population is only thirty-six thousand, more than thirty million tourists come here each year. The billboard that greets them announces WELCOME TO ATLANTIC CITY. ALWAYS TURNED ON. The sexual allusion is deliberate. Many of the male tourists hope to get "turned on" by paying for sex, and women of all ages seek to satisfy, parading in front of the casinos or behind them on the Boardwalk, which runs between the hotels and the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

By the summer of 2000, Maria had found a new home.

She had deep, dark eyes and black hair set in braids that ran halfway down her back. She turned heads along the Boardwalk and Atlantic Avenue, and she liked it. One night, outside the Flamingo casino, she met a young woman named Princess. "Skinny and really pretty" is how Maria remembers her.

"How do you keep warm?" Maria asked her, looking at Princess's skimpy outfit.

"Hos never get cold," Princess replied with a laugh. Maria was entranced.

"Oh, yeah," Maria repeated with delight. "Hos don't get cold."

She didn't realize it, but she was being recruited. Although Maria had already started sleeping with men for money, she didn't yet have a regular pimp.

Princess gave the young girl her cell number. "Call me if you want to choose up," she said, using the street slang for choosing a pimp. But Maria, a Boardwalk ingenue, had no idea what Princess meant.

"I thought it was just her way of talking," she says. "I didn't know she had a pimp. I didn't even know what a pimp was."

Maria called Princess the next day, and the older woman sent a cab to bring her to the Red Roof Inn on the outskirts of Atlantic City. They hung out together all day. Princess told Maria how great her "Daddy" was, how generous he was, and how cute. His street name was Tracy, and Princess couldn't wait for her new friend to meet him.

Maria learned her first lesson about pimps right then: they have their own time. It was hours before Tracy showed up, and when he did he had a friend, a business associate named Knowledge, in tow. Partners and sometime rivals, the two men could not have been more different in appearance. Tracy, whose real name was Demetrius Lemus, was "the pretty pimp," as people described him, a handsome Puerto Rican of average height and build with a trim goatee and a pencil-thin moustache. Knowledge, on the other hand, was a hulking presence, a tall African American with a close- cropped beard, deep-set eyes, and a defiant stare. To the impressionable Maria, Tracy was "adorable," while Knowledge was "ugly and fat."

"So, who do you want to be with?" Tracy asked. Maria had already fallen hard for him. "He was Spanish and that kind of reminded me of my dad," she says. "Tracy was sexy and young."

"Let me talk to you real quick in the bathroom," he instructed her.

The pimping world has its own language and laws, and Maria was about to learn both very quickly. In "the life" or "the game," as the prostitution trade is called, the women, known as "bitches," have to submit to a single "Daddy" pimp. They become part of his "stable" and call each other "wives-in-law." A pimp usually chooses his most trusted and experienced woman, called his "bottom girl," to keep the others in line. The golden rule is that when a woman is "in pocket" with one pimp, she is obliged to keep her head bowed in the presence of another pimp and never look at him. "If you got eyes, you got action" is how Knowledge liked to explain it.

In the bathroom, Tracy laid down the law. "This is what you got to do," he said. "When you go out there, you got to put your head down."

Maria was confused. "I got to put my head down?" she asked. "Why?"

"You have to put your head down from now on every time you see any other man 'cause you're in pocket now and you can't disrespect me."

"OK," said the fourteen-year-old.

And she was Tracy's girl. Maria, lonely and shunned by her family, thought she was in love with a man who would shower her with money and affection. Her submission had begun. All the pieces had fallen into place: a traumatic trigger event that tore her from her family, the luring by a "Princess" leading an enchanting and exciting life, a teenage crush on a handsome man.

Maria could not have known then that Tracy was already married with two children. She did not know that he had a vicious, violent streak. She could never have imagined how much Tracy and, especially, Knowledge would soon dominate and eventually threaten her life.

Maria had just joined the underworld of domestic sex trafficking; she had become one of America's prostituted children. "Nobody reports them, nobody is looking for them, and nobody cares about them," says Dan Garrabrant, the FBI agent who would eventually devote two years of his life to rescuing Maria and hunting down her pimps.

"They're the forgotten children."

* * *

In the beginning, Maria craved the attention, the slinky clothes, and the fast life. Right after their first encounter, Tracy drove his new recruit to New York City, the center of the operation he and Knowledge ran.

"How old are you?" he asked when they got to his home on Rochambeau Street in the Bronx.

"Sixteen," Maria said.

Tracy had to know she was lying. By her own admission, Maria "looked like a baby." Two days later, she told her pimp the truth. "I'm fourteen," she admitted.

Tracy didn't care. If anything, her youth made her more marketable. The street name he gave her was Baby Girl.

Tracy initiated his new Baby Girl into the business in one of the toughest prostitution centers in the New York area — Hunts Point, a warren of dilapidated tenements and dimly lit alleyways in the Bronx. Maria, still fresh on the scene, got a rush from the excitement and action on the street. "There were hos everywhere. Pimping and hoing was the best thing going," she says. She felt sexy and desirable; for a child of fourteen, it was strangely intoxicating. "I would just walk around with no bra on, my breasts hanging out, leather boots up to the middle of my thighs, a thong with my ass cheeks showing."

The pimps packed the corners of Lafayette and Whittier in their trademark elaborate hats and fancy canes. Tracy and Knowledge were the exception, opting most of the time for T-shirts and jeans. "It was just crazy," Maria says. "Just running from the pimps and running from the cops."

Running from the cops was halfhearted at best, because arrests were never more than a minor inconvenience. The police considered adult prostitution a nuisance rather than a crime, while the commercial sexual exploitation of children barely registered on their radar. By her own count, Maria was arrested around thirty- seven times, at one point spending as long as seven weeks at Rikers Island, the sprawling, tough jail between Queens and the Bronx. Whenever she was picked up by police, she always claimed to be an adult and carried either a fake ID or none at all. It didn't matter. "They never asked questions," she says.

For Maria, jail was never much of a hardship. She was convinced the pimps were bribing the authorities. "Don't worry," said Princess, who was with her the first time she went to jail. "We're golden in this precinct."

"I just sat there with Princess the whole day, and we ate McDonald's and smoked cigarettes," Maria says. "It was like nothing."

As the months wore on, fourteen-year-old Baby Girl fell ever deeper into Tracy's grip. "I thought he was the first guy who cared about me," she says. "I thought he was a man who was actually going to love me."

Maria was not alone. It is not uncommon for victims of abuse to develop a bond with their abusers for a variety of reasons. At a young age, children who are sexually abused by a parent or a person of authority may sense that something is wrong, but they lack the maturity to understand what to do about it. An older woman trapped in a cycle of domestic abuse might struggle to overcome the emotional and physical fears and find the strength to make an escape. Even for an adult woman, complex factors can keep a victim bonded with her abuser unless she gets outside help and intervention. But teenage girls who are pushed into prostitution fall somewhere between because of a unique and potentially dangerous blend of adolescent impetuousness and stubbornness. Too young to recognize they are being manipulated and too old to see themselves as helpless children, they come to endure, if not accept, their own exploitation because, rightly or wrongly, they do not see a better alternative. And all they see in popular culture — from music to movies — is a glorification of the pimping world.

"A bitch's weakness is a pimp's sweetness," says Pimpin' Ken Ivy, a hustler from Milwaukee and Chicago who wrote a bestselling guide to exploiting women called Pimpology: The 48 Laws of the Game. One of his most important rules was simple: "Prey on the weak." The women all have a similar story, he says, a history that can be exploited. More often than not, a woman tells him she was "raped as a little girl." "Most hos have low self-esteem for a reason. A pimp looks for that weakness," Pimpin' Ken advises. "Weakness is the best trait a person can find in someone they want to control."

Tracy, like any good pimp, spotted Maria's weakness. She craved the attention she felt she wasn't getting at home. "He showed me love that nobody showed me," she says.

As in all abusive relationships, isolation was central to the pimp's control over the teenager. Tracy did his best to keep Maria cut off from her old way of life. Aside from her clients, she had little contact with anyone but her pimp and the other women in his stable.

"Hos and pimps, we have our own world," she says. "We have own way of talking. Everybody else is 'square.' We are not square, we are 'turned out,' we are turned out to the game."

That insular, isolated existence led to an us-versus-them mentality, a feeling of belonging to her new family and antipathy toward any outsiders who would threaten it. The logic of that world was so twisted that an act that she should have found revolting — a pimp in his midthirties having sex with a fourteen-year-old — she instead saw as a reward. "He let me sleep with him," she says. "And he let the other girls sleep somewhere else in another room."

But there were early signs that Maria was beginning to feel the strain and stress of her life. For one thing, she was exhausted by the long hours, the days running into nights. Then there were the regular, if unpredictable, outbursts of violence. Even Knowledge, Tracy's senior pimping partner, acknowledged that his colleague had a "wicked temper." He once exploded at an airline flight attendant who opened a window shade without asking, and he threatened to kill a waitress who had shown him disrespect. But his worst outbursts were reserved for the women in his stable. "He would be nice and then two minutes later he would be a psycho," Maria says. "He would just snap."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Somebody's Daughter by Julian Sher. Copyright © 2013 JournalismNet Enterprises Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Author's Note v

Prologue: What Happens in Vegas… 1

Part 1 Innocence Lost

1 The Girl from Jersey 17

2 High-Risk Victims 35

3 Maria's Dilemma 59

4 The Wealth of Knowledge 75

Part 2 Confronting the Pimps

5 Taking on Pimp Culture 91

6 "He Was Untouchable" 107

7 Takedown 127

8 "She's Not Your Ho Anymore" 139

9 "Like Attacking the Mafia" 161

10 In the Dead of the Night 179

11 "Judge People by Courage" 187

Part 3 "Girls Are Not for Sale"

12 Courtroom 18 221

13 No Safe Haven 237

14 Unequal Laws 251

15 Finding Their Own Voice 277

16 Making the Invisible Visible 299

Epilogue: "Caught in Between Two Worlds" 317

Afterword 324

Acknowledgments 329

Resources For Help 331

Sources 335

Index 337

About the Author 346

What People are Saying About This

Ernie Allen

[A] powerful and compelling book ... as riveting and disturbing as this book is, it is also uplifting and hopeful ... [Sher] showcases some modern-day heroes whose courageous efforts are rescuing kids and bringing those who prey upon them to justice. It is inspiring. We need more such heroes. (Ernie Allen, president & CEO, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children)

Lois Lee

Describes America's failure to address the needs of American children forced to prostitute right here in the United States. (Dr. Lois Lee, founder & president, Children of the Night)

Ellen Hopkins

Unsettling, uncomfortable, unforgettable. Every parent should read Somebody's Daughter , and then share this book with their teen. Knowledge is power. (Ellen Hopkins, author, Tricks and Fallout)

Rachel Durchslag

A brutally honest look into the hidden world of prostituted children in the United States. A compelling book that will touch hearts and minds and inspire people to take action. (Rachel Durchslag, executive director, Chicago Alliance against Sexual Exploitation)

From the Publisher

"If you ever watched Pretty Woman and wondered how Julia Roberts got out on street in the first place—read this book. Somebody's Daughter exposes the grit behind the glamour, the exploitation behind the elegance, and the violence and abuse that are the true story of the women and children hurt on our own streets, in our own cities in America."  —Laura J. Lederer, president, Global Centurion, former senior advisor on trafficking, U.S. Department of State

"Unsettling, uncomfortable, unforgettable. Every parent should read Somebody's Daughter, and then share this book with their teen. Knowledge is power."  —Ellen Hopkins, author, Tricks and Fallout

"A brutally honest look into the hidden world of prostituted children in the United States. A compelling book that will touch hearts and minds and inspire people to take action."  —Rachel Durchslag, executive director, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation

"Somebody's Daughter describes America's failure to address the needs of American children forced to prostitute right here in the United States."  —Dr. Lois Lee, founder & president, Children of the Night

"Masterful, absorbing . . . To date the most definitive account of sex trafficking of children in the United States and the culture that supports it."  —Norma Ramos, executive director, Coalition Against Trafficking of Women

"Parents every day suffer the anxiety and sorrow of a daughter or son who has run away or is missing. There are few books as well written, insightful, and motivating as Somebody’s Daughter.  Julian Sher, in his extraordinarily masterful manner, has brought out the truth of this well-organized, underrecognized and continuously growing threat to children in America."   —Dr. Sharon W. Cooper, consultant, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

“[A] powerful and compelling book . . . as riveting and disturbing as this book is, it is also uplifting and hopeful. [Sher] showcases some modern-day heroes whose courageous efforts are rescuing kids and bringing those who prey upon them to justice. It is inspiring. We need more such heroes."  —Ernie Allen, president & CEO, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

"Compulsively readable account . . . that elevates a collection of horrifying statistics into a cinematic, fully dimensional story."  —Bust

Laura J. Lederer

If you ever watched Pretty Woman and wondered how Julia Roberts got out on the street in the first place—read this book. Somebody's Daughter exposes the grit behind the glamour, the exploitation behind the elegance, and the violence and abuse that are the true story of the women and children hurt on our own streets, in our own cities in America. (Laura J. Lederer, president, Global Centurion, and former senior advisor on trafficking, U.S. Department of State)

Norma Ramos

To date the most definitive account of sex trafficking of children in the United States and the culture that supports it. (Norma Ramos, executive director, Coalition against Trafficking of Women)

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Somebody's Daughter: The Hidden Story of America's Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In 300 pages, Sher examines the problem of child traffiking from every angle. Packed with details, but never leaving the profound narrative arch, the author conveys the message deftly in what will most certainly be the seminole work on the topic. I can't praise this book more. Well worth the read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago