When families break down, children often hit the streets and try to survive on their own, many turning to prostitution within days after running away.
In a massive three-day, countrywide sweep over the weekend, the FBI rescued 105 children caught up in the dark world of forced prostitution. The operation also netted 150 pimps in 76 American cities.
In Hayward, Calif., police picked up a frightened 15-year-old prostitute who asked if she could call her mother.
A 13-year-old, hyperventilating as she talked, told police she had run away from a group home.
Patrick Mims, program coordinator with Bay Area Women against Rape(BAWAR), an advocacy group based in Hayward, said children frequently run away from these homes.
"Foster homes and group homes…they're leaving these places as fast as they're sent to them," Mims said.
Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Investigation Division, calls child prostitution "one of the most prevalent, violent and unconscionable crimes in this country."
Authorities rescued the largest numbers of children in Detroit, Milwaukee, Denver, New Orleans and San Francisco.
"Traffickers prey on youth with low self-esteem and minimal social support," Justice Department staffer Drew Oosterban said.
Federal officials said many of the children they rescued were sold into prostitution through the Internet, at truck stops or on city streets.
"With no way to survive on their own, they are lured into a life of being trafficked for sex," John Ryan, chief executive officer of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said. "When these children are recovered ... typically their only possessions are the clothes they are wearing."
The Justice Department says nearly 450,000 children run away from home each year and that one-third of teens living on the street will be pulled toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. Astoundingly, some are recruited right out of foster care facilities.