Human trafficking in a problem nationwide, including right here in Pittsburgh. Channel 11 got a rare glimpse into the issue, after sitting down with a victim.
We'll call her Kate.
Kate spent much of her childhood in abusive households, jumping between her family, foster parents and adoption. Eventually, she decided to run away, but she was homeless and alone. At just 15 years old, that's when she met someone who seemed to be offering her a way out.
"He offered me a place to go because I had nowhere," Kate said. "That's when he said if you help me I'll help you out."
It started with Kate selling drugs on 5th Avenue downtown. Soon, she says, that wasn't enough.
"It seemed like no matter how much money I made, it was gone," she said. "He said I didn't make enough and I would have to do other stuff and I didn't want to."
The man in charge was 40 years old -- more than twice her age.
"After about a month I didn't want to do it anymore and he wouldn't let me leave," she said.
Channel 11 asked Kate if she ever saw herself as a victim during that time. She said no.
"I felt like I was completely accountable for all of my actions," Kate said.
That reaction isn't uncommon.
Jackie Hoover, assistant deputy director of Allegheny County Children Youth and Families, says she sees that reaction from a lot of victims.
"We're using that trauma lens to say that these are victims rather than consenting individuals," Hoover told Channel 11.
It took Kate several weeks to get out of her situation, and an arrest. The FBI took down her captor in a sting at a local hotel room. But Kate was also charged, with prostitution. She told Channel 11 it was a confusing situation.
"I was scared because I didn't know what was going to happen to me," she said. "I was ashamed and embarrassed. But I was relieved because I didn't want to do that no more and this was my way out."
Hoover says she believes many young girls arrested in prostitution busts are human trafficking victims. She is working with the district attorney's office to create a diversion program so the arrests won't show up on their records.
"They don't have to be charged with prostitution and they can be truly identified as what they are, which is victims," Hoover said.
To learn more about The Project to End Human Trafficking, CLICK HERE.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation considers human trafficking the third-largest criminal activity in the world.
Human trafficking is a big and real problem in Pittsburgh and the FBI said it needs the public's help to stop it.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported almost 5,600 calls regarding sex trafficking in 2016, and 156 of them were in Pennsylvania.
Mary Burke, a professor at Carlow University, said the internet has allowed traffickers to make more money, and they use the internet to recruit, control and sell victims online.
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