Tackling America's Child Prostitution Secret

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It's known as "America's dirty little secret" --children forced into prostitution.

Just recently, an FBI sting dubbed "Operation Cross Country" rounded up more than 350 suspected customers, pimps and children in 16 cities. Now a woman who was forced to walk the streets some 20 years ago, has returned to help.

Carissa Phelps uccessful is now a UCLA grad with a great future, but it's her past that is making a big difference in the lives of young victims.

At age 12, her mother dropped her off at Fresno Juvenile Hall because she was tired of raising her. Since Phelps hadn't committed a crime, she wasn't admitted. Instead, she was sent to a group home where she ran away soon after arriving.

While living on the streets, she met a group that promised to take care of her as long as she would "go out and make money." Eventually, she was raped by her own pimp. The documentary that bears her name goes into great detail about her life.

"You don't even realize the amount of abuse that's been done because you're in survival mode. You're angry at everyone. You're acting out," Phelps explained. "But you really are so damaged emotionally, spiritually."

Fortunately, someone was able to break through to Phelps-- a counselor in juvenile hall named Ron Jenkins.

"She knew that somebody cared about her. Someone cares enough about what happens to her," he said. "(It) gave her a feeling of 'I am somebody.'"

The US. Department of Justice estimates more than 300,000 American children under the age of 18 are involved in prostitution. Phelps is now determined to diminish that number. And President and CEO of Children of the Night Dr. Lois Lee has seen first hand the impact of Phelps' work.

"I'm trying to rescue as many American children from the ravages of prostitution that I can during my lifetime," Lee began. "Carissa's trying ot change a community that physically catered to the torture and abandonment of children who were victimized by prostitution. They're two different approaches, both require lifelong commitment and we're both strong and gutsy and we'll be able to do it."

And Phelps is doing it her own way. She's speaking at universities, lobbying Congress and working on a book set to release next year.

"I'm here tonight on a mission and that mission is to give a voice to children that are on the streets," she said.

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