OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Police say commute hours are when the trafficking of children and young girls on the streets is high, as men go to and from work.
A 13-year-old girl, who spoke to KTVU under her father's supervision, says she was asked to sell her body on the streets after she ran away from home to meet up with a man.
The girl was only 12 when she first met the trafficker around her neighborhood. He then contacted her on Instagram and invited her to Oakland, promising her parties and fun times.
"He was like you're going to have fun and stuff. There's a lot of people, parties and stuff," she said. "That was my boyfriend."
Victims' advocates say this type of trafficker is known as a "Romeo pimp," who promises good times or material things. But eventually he will ask the girl to sell her body in return.
"He was like, ‘Why don't you try it?' I said no. He was like, ‘Please.' I'm like ‘Okay.'"
After three days of walking the streets and standing on street corners, the girl says she finally managed to escape and leave Oakland when the man left her alone for a few hours.
That 7th grader is far from being alone. Experts say the average age of a girl first exploited in child sex trafficking is 12 years old.
"When I started hearing this and looking at these children and what people were doing to our kids, it infuriated me and still does," said Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley. "It makes me very angry."
Alameda County has prosecuted 425 traffickers in the last eight years. And 89 percent of those were convicted.
Alameda County has led the state in prosecuting child sex traffickers during that time. But they're not just going after the exploiters. They're also working hard to dispel the myths about the teens and children who are asked to sell their bodies for sex. O'Malley says these girls are not prostitutes, they are sexual assault victims.
Advocates say the high number of girls who walk the streets often have a history of running away, drug addiction, and prior victimization and truancy.
Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Teresa Drenick says it's key for school officials to be trained on prevention.
"If they're aware of the signs to look for, they could be out there in the forefront at the very first signs that this child is missing," said Drenick.
The 13-year-old who spoke to KTVU says regrets running away and is not the same girl anymore. She says she's learned "not to run away ‘cause you never know what you can get yourself into. One day you'll never come back alive."
If you are fearful, afraid, under the control of someone, call 911 for emergency assistance. You will be helped to get to safety and will be provided referrals to assist you in remaining safe. Or send a text to BeFree (233733) or to the National Human Trafficking Recourse Center (888-373-7888).
800-THE-LOST (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)
800-RUN-AWAY (National Runaway Safeline)
MISSEY, based in Oakland: (510) 251-2070 or (510) 290-6097
Rape Trauma Services, based in San Mateo County: 650-692-7273