LOS ANGELES — Teenagers who leave home are sometimes lured or forced into prostitution. One Los Angeles charity called Children of the Night helps them turn their lives around and get an education.
Today, these kids are like other teenagers. They play computer games, study, and have time to practice meditation.
But not long ago, they fought to survive on the streets, controlled by pimps who sold their services.
Alyssa is 15. She was forced into prostitution by her sister and a pimp one year ago.
"He forced me to turn tricks in the hotel room all day. I couldn't leave, I couldn't eat, I couldn't do anything. I couldn't talk to my family any more," she said.
An arrest led Alyssa to Children of the Night.
The kids study at a private school on the group's site. They also get one-on-one counseling and together start to turn their lives around. Amber is 17 years-old.
"We are pretty much all the same, and we can look at each other and look up to each other and make sure that we're all doing well. We bond like a family," said Amber.
Many Americans have heard of sexual trafficking as far away as Asia. But in the United States, teenage runaways can become victims, said Los Angeles Police Department vice officer Shaun King.
"In looking for international trafficking crimes and victims, we often forget that there are hundreds or thousands of domestic trafficking victims right here in Los Angeles, not counting other parts of the United States," said King.
A media campaign is alerting Los Angeles residents to the problem.
Recently, Children of the Night founder Lois Lee thanked community supporters who help the organization, including those who work for local businesses and movie studios.
She said volunteers and staff members have helped thousands of former prostitutes find productive work in society.
"Some of them are professionals. Some of them are teachers running inner city schools. Some of them work in public relations. Some of them work as executives in other corporations."
Lee said for many of the teens, the program is a haven where they can study, play and just be normal teenagers.