Hundreds of children trafficked for sex in Dallas; new centers open to help

Effort to save girls from sex trafficking

DALLAS -- When you meet Robbie Hamilton, you'd never know such an upbeat, confident woman was once living on the streets, addicted to drugs.

"People say, 'Wow you must have lived a really great life.' I say, 'Yeah, except for those homeless years,'" Hamilton laughed.

It was a downward spiral she never expected when she was lured into the sex trade in Dallas around age 15.

"When you slowly get reeled into the life like that, you don't know how to get out," she said. "I remember not feeling like I was going to be accepted back into society, because I was bad, I was dirty."

Then, at age 41, her fourth felony arrest in Garland led her to New Friends New Life, a Dallas non-profit near Mockingbird Station that empowers sex trafficking survivors, connecting them to counseling, shelters, and careers. They provide help to women and girls.

Nearly 15 years later, Hamilton getting ready to help other victims in an expanded location specifically for girls ages 12 to 24, slated to open next week, thanks to a new initiative and grants from Governor Greg Abbott's office to combat sex trafficking.

"There's nothing more healing than someone looking at you and saying 'Me too. I know,'" she said.

It's important work, because young girls are being bought and sold on the streets of Dallas more often than you might imagine.

Dallas police estimate 400 girls are being trafficked on the streets of Dallas every single night, said New Friends New Life CEO Katie Pedigo.

"We have seen girls as young as nine," said Pedigo. "The average age a girl is trafficked in Dallas is 13 years old."

The common thread between many of the girls who come to New Friends New Life is a history of abuse or dysfunction in their home from a young age.

"It can be any girl in our city, it can be any part of our city, it can be North or South Dallas, East or West," said Pedigo.

"Trafficking is not always grabbed and being thrown into a car," said Hamilton. "Trafficking is being groomed. I just knew it was attention, and I craved more of it."

"Sometimes it's not that scary bad guy we see in the movies. Sometimes it could be another woman. Sometimes it could be somebody that looks like a friend to them, that's recruiting them into the sex trade," said Pedigo. "I would tell parents to keep their eyes open. Be vigilant with their little girls."

Social media can make it even easier for pimps to find their victims, with promises of friendship, love, and money. By the time girls realize what's happened, it's often too late.

"If you're talking about a young girl under the age of 18 who is selling her body day in and day out, up to 10,11, 12 times a day, there's no choice in that," said Pedigo.

That's why New Friends New Life's new center for youth is so important. Once it's complete Nov. 1, it will give girls a place to relax, three hot meals a day, snacks, clothes, counseling, even art therapy and yoga. And of course, the first face they'll see is Hamilton's, someone who can relate.

"It took a long time for me to be able to put down the shame. It took a long time for me to talk about it after I got sober," said Hamilton.

Promise House just opened a similar drop-in center for sex trafficking survivors in Dallas this week, also thanks to grants from the governor's office.

If the girls need a place to sleep, they'll be referred to shelters for sex trafficking survivors, or they can enroll in one of the Promise House's programs. 

A long-term solution, Pedigo says, is to work together to address the problem.

"Once you know and once you start to care, you have to do. You have to do something about it, that's what we're asking and telling our community, is find out the facts, get the true information and then do what you can do," said Pedigo.

Click here to read TEGNA's special online series on child sex trafficking

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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