PORTLAND, Ore. – She was just 15 years old. A child, paid to have sex with grown men.
“I’m very self-conscious now and I have PTSD,” said Sandy, who is now 19 years old. “I don’t like it when men touch me or when people talk to me that are guys.”
KATU is not revealing the real name of the woman interviewed in this story. We are using the name Sandy to protect her identity because she is trying to rebuild her life.
Sandy says she ran away from a chaotic home life when she was 14 years old. She was homeless and hungry.
Someone noticed her desperation at a party and seized an opportunity.
“That is where I met this older man that asked me if I wanted to sleep with him. I mean sleep with people for money,” she said. “He just asked me if I wanted to help him out and, like, he offered me a place to live. He said I would have unstoppable food, and I was like, ‘Sure.’”
Sandy said the men she had sex with were in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
“Some of them are gross. Some were dirty. But then there are they guys that are well put-together and businessmen."
Her pimp would arrange meet-ups with clients at hotels and homes, but he strategically kept his distance, she said.
“I’d have to walk sometimes a mile to the place I was going. He would drive by and show me, ‘You’re going to go here’, then he’d drive really far away and I’d have to walk there.”
“I’d feel really dirty… and I would take showers for a long time,” she said. “I would sit there forever and I would try to scrub myself and scrub myself. I would feel like I’d never get clean.”
Sandy kept doing it for four more months.
“I had nowhere else to go, so I just kept doing it.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office on Monday released results of a study that revealed data on sex trafficking in the Portland area. Researchers found 469 separate cases of children being used in the sex trade between 2009 and 2013. They also found that 15.5 years old is the average age for a child in the sex trade to first be referred to the Department of Human Services or other relevant government agencies for help.
“It’s real. It’s definitely real,” Sandy said.
All but one of the victims in the study was born in the United States.
“One of my really good friends met this guy and he forced her to prostitute herself and she’s dead now,” said Sandy. “He took her to California and someone cut her open.”
Sandy is now in college and she has a two-year-old daughter. She wonders if she’ll ever shake the shame she feels.
She has this plea for parents:
“Take care of your kids and be there for them,” she said. “Because, really, it is important. And try your best no matter how hard they push you away.”