CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Out of sight, in back alleys, multitudes of runaway teenage American girls are sucked into forced prostitution and drug addiction, their lives and futures doomed to the gutter.
Tonight at a West Side church, listeners are to hear a lecture on "U.S. Human Trafficking: Modern-Day Slavery," by Sister Anne Victory, a nun who works with an Ohio agency that rescues trapped girls. The 7 p.m. event at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation is sponsored by Seneca 2, a Kanawha Valley women's rights group.
It's a repeat performance. The same group sponsored the same speaker on the same topic at West Virginia State University six months ago.
The warning can't be repeated enough, because the danger to adolescent females is ugly and frightening.
It's a billion-dollar clandestine industry. When men pay attractive young women for sex, they think the hookers are out for thrills and easy money. But the reality is much worse: Most of the girls are literally prisoners of pimps who take all their earnings and beat them if they fail to bring in $1,000 per night. The pimps give their victims a place to stay and enough food to survive -- plus narcotics and alcohol to keep them under control.
National columnist Nicholas Kristof and his wife crusade to rescue girls trapped in this nightmare. They wrote a book, Half the Sky, about the international sex trade that snares millions of Asian and Eastern European girls. However, in the United States, "the biggest trafficking problem involves homegrown American runaways," Kristof wrote.
This week, Kristof described a Nashville girl who fled from her drug-addict mother at age 14 and was scooped up by a pimp. "I thought he was my boyfriend," she recalled. When her first pimp was shot to death, she was seized by another, who beat her if he caught her keeping any money for herself. The young woman estimates she was arrested 200 times.
She finally was saved by a female Episcopal priest who operates a "Magdalene" shelter to help such victims escape from street life. Now the ex-prostitute is married, with two children -- one a gifted student. The proud mother is completing a college degree and plans to be a social worker.
When immature adolescents sink into hopeless drug addiction and sexual exploitation, it's a tragedy for them and their families. It's a terrible waste of human potential. It damages American society. Parents, teachers, friends, social workers, neighbors and all others should do their utmost to guard against this menace.