A daughter, a niece, a friend – underage girls forced into the sex trade, exploited by pimps preying on their vulnerability. Who are these teens?
Mark Kelley of CBC's the fifth estate sat down with four young women from Edmonton to find out how they were singled out, recruited and groomed for the sex trade.
One girl grew up in a middle-class neighbourhood and was in most respects the "girl next door." A sexual assault when she was just 13 led her on a downward spiral, and to a side of the city she never knew existed.
She explained how pimps look for "broken girls" and then lure them into a life of sexual exploitation through drugs, clothes, affection and attention.
"The pimps, they look like regular guys," she told Kelley. "Basically, they can spot you out of a crowd and they know that you're a victim."
The fifth estate also spoke with police and with community and outreach workers who race against time, trying to prevent young girls from becoming the next murdered or missing women.
Kelley followed Det. Dave Schening, a vice cop with the Edmonton Police Service, during one undercover operation to help girls being trafficked online. Schening texts girls he believes to be underage, pretending to be a customer and asking to meet.
At the meetings, Schening is joined by Kari Thomason, an outreach worker with Metis Child and Family Services.
When the girls arrive at a hotel, if they are underage, Schening apprehends them and takes them to a safe house. If they are over 18, Schening and Thomason provide support for escaping the sex trade.
Speaking to one of these young women during one of these stings, Schening says, "I really believe that the job you're doing … is probably the most dangerous profession in the world."
"We want to keep you alive," Thomason adds. "That's our goal."
Watch the fifth estate's Too Young To Lose, the tale of one city's efforts to curtail the growth of teen trafficking by reaching out to young girls before it's too late.