KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kristy Childs of Kansas City, Mo. has painful memories of her childhood.
"I was born in a smaller town in Missouri and left home, started running away. Very abusive stepfather," she told CBN News.
That abuse forced Childs to leave home when she was only 12 years old. She started working on the streets.
"I started hitchhiking and my prostitution started there with the truck drivers," she explained. "I was doing what I had to do to survive."
After 24 years of drugs and the street life, Childs wanted out. But she knew breaking away from pimps and drug pushers would be risky. Her freedom came in an unexpected way.
"I went to abort my son twice and couldn't go through with it," Childs recalled. "I was threatening miscarriage. I was bleeding and I thought 'Thank you, God. This is my answer. I'm not going to have to have an abortion because I had had abortions - many of them - and was made to have several abortions."
"Ended up going to Truman Medical Center at the emergency room where they were going to do a DNC, but before they did that they wanted to see if there was a heart beat," she continued. "The moment I heard my son's heartbeat, God just spoke into my spirit and told me 'I'm going to bring you out. Have your baby and I'm going to bring you out.'"
Today, Childs works to rescue other women and girls who are trapped in the commercial sex trade through her organization Veronica's Voice. It is named for a friend of Childs who was killed on the streets.
"A lot of them are scared," she said. "Some come through the support system; some have bad attitudes. I deal with it all across the board. They're dealing with post traumatic stress. They're full of anger because they're full of pain. And we work with that."
Each year more than 4,000 American children fall victim to commercial sexual exploitation in Missouri. Nearly 1,700 are victimized in the Kansas City metropolitan area.
Carrie Rossetti is with the Kansas City Coalition Against Human Trafficking, a group of organizations, including many faith-based programs. The coalition helps to raise awareness about the sex trafficking issue, provides outreach to rescued victims, and offers prayer support.
"We have learned that, hey, guess what? It's not just here, here, here, there. It's actually right in front of us in our communities, happening right now," Rossetti explained.
Rossetti told CBN News that Kansas City's easy access to highways and the large amount of commercial trade the pass through the state make it a hub for traffickers.
"So Kansas City, Mo., Kansas City, Kan. and Overland Park, Kan. are a great place to do international and national trade and not just in the trade of commercial products, but also in the trade of human beings," she said.
People You'd Least Suspect
Rosetti said most people would be surprised to discover who the sex traffickers really are.
"It is not just the sleezy people we think on the streets that this is happening. Traffickers can be doctors, and have been doctors, lawyers, dentists, social workers, teachers. There's really no end to the person that would be a candidate, so to speak, to be a trafficker."
Like Childs, many of the girls working in the sex trafficking industry come from abusive homes.
"They're coming from the foster care system. They are coming to us as runaways, children with no places to go. Children who have been victimized - sexual molestation, abuse, neglect," Rosetti explained.
Experts say the majority of the girls rescued from the streets will need long term recovery.
Exposing a Toxic Culture
Ministries in the Kansas City area are stepping up to answer the call.
"I got to be part of a two-some who provided chaplaincy services for one victim who wanted somebody to pray with after she got brought in," said Wendy Andrews, who serves on the leadership team for The Kansas City Boiler Room.
"There's a holistic approach that needs to be provided for these clients who come in on these cases," Andrews explained. "And I think that it's absolutely essential that a spiritual component of ministry or healing in the Holy Spirit is going to be necessary for their full recovery and health."
Exodus Cry is an international anti-trafficking organization committed to ending human trafficking and modern day slavery, They are headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., and recently opened a shelter for rescued victims of human trafficking.
The group is also working on a documentary that exposes the undercurrent of injustice beneath the surface of sex tourism. Benjamin Nolot, the group's founder, explained why they made the film.
"The issue of human trafficking is just exploding," he said. "Part of our goal in the documentary is to expose the toxic culture that we live in."
"We don't just want to say, 'Hey, look. Isn't this awful?'" Nolot continued. "We want to ask questions to get people thinking and really bring abut a grassroots movement, a purity revolution where we would literally raise up a 'see-no-evil' generation, a generation that says I don't want to see it."
One of the Lucky Ones
Meanwhile, Childs admits she is one of the lucky ones. She is working hard to help others break free from a life of sex trafficking.
"The girls that are making it out," she says, "They are miracles in every way."
*Originally published on August 26, 2010.