Every night, thousands of teenage girls in Dallas are tucked safely into bed, but about 400 get ready to go to work, arduous nights of selling their bodies to appease their pimps

Robin probably would have been a CEO in another life. She has the business acumen of a Wall Street broker and a keen sense of client relations.

Unfortunately, her industry of choice is illegal.

“Some call me an escort, some call me a hooker — it all means the same thing,” says the bubbly 19-year-old, who regularly sells herself on the Internet. “I am glad I do this work online, it’s so easy today with Craigslist and all the other sites. I’d hate to be out standing on the street.”

Like record stores, “street walking” prostitutes largely have been pushed out in the digital age. Instead it works much like ordering a pizza online. Robin posts when she is available, and men almost instantly fill her inbox with replies. Most nights, the petite brunette has her pick of clients.

“Finding guys who want me has never been a problem,” she says absentmindedly scrolling through the two dozen responses she received from last night’s post while sprawled out on the pink floral comforter of her bed that would fit perfectly into a little girl’s bedroom.

In many ways, Robin is a little girl, just one that didn’t get to grow up like little girls should. Born to a mentally ill mother, she ended up in foster care after a neighbor reported seeing her shivering day after day without a coat to keep her warm in the harsh Midwestern winters where she was raised.

At first foster care was a step up, a place where her unmet needs were finally addressed. Then, she says, a relative of her foster family began molesting her at age 9. Her blue eyes cast down as she shrugs off the memory.

“Crappy things happen to everyone, right?” she says.

By 13, she was using any drug she was handed to numb the pain. At first, her dealer seemed like a friend, someone who protected her and made sure she had what she wanted. Then he started pressuring her to perform sexual favors in exchange for more drugs.
“He took such good care of me it didn’t seem like a big deal to do it for him,” Robin says. “You do it a couple of times and you start to go numb.”

She began to see herself as an object, not a human. Knowing that her young age made her more desirable on the streets, she soon began selling herself. She met a man online who agreed to fly her to Dallas. No one seemed to notice when she ran away.

She worked for a pimp for several years, a man more than twice her age who beat her and raped her, but also gave her a place to stay and food to eat. Eventually, she made enough money to move in with a friend she met on the streets. Defiantly, she speaks out about what she does for a living.

“This isn’t new — girls have been making money this way for years. Why shouldn’t I?” she questions. When asked what she would do if she could do anything in the world, she rolls her eyes.

“What do you want me to say? President? That’s just not me,” she says, voice thick with cynicism. “Do I like doing this? Not especially, but it’s what I choose to do. I’m not some victim.”

Amanda Jones used to think like Robin. Just like Robin, she was sexually abused at home, before turning to the streets as a teenager. She was trafficked for the first time at 15, and spent the next nine years caught in the web of prostitution for a pimp’s financial gain.

“I didn’t ever see myself as a victim,” Jones told KERA radio in an April interview. “You’re just trying to survive at that age, so you don’t see yourself as a victim.”

Jones is now a successful accountant, living in Dallas in a life that is unrecognizable from her time on the street. It wasn’t easy and it didn’t come overnight, but she found support from neighborhood nonprofit New Friends New Life, which works solely with female victims of human trafficking and the sex industry. Offering classes, job training, counseling and even childcare, the organization seeks to give these women the tools they need to regain control of their life on their own terms.

“We meet the women where they are,” says Lauren Haskins, development director for New Friends New Life. “No one is court-ordered to be here. The women who come here, they’re looking for change.”

On any given night, about 400 teens are trafficked in the commercial sex trade on the str