By Deborah Feyerick & Sheila Steffen, CNN
Tamara Vandermoon is barely recognizable in the photo she holds up; her face is swollen and bruised, her eyes nearly battered shut. She was 19 at the time. "My pimp had beaten me and stomped my face," she says. "I was black and blue."
The Minnesota woman has seen a lot in her relatively short life. Abandoned by her father and angry at her mother, she ran away when she was 12, the same age she turned her first trick trading sex for money and gifts.
"I just wanted to be accepted and loved. I was told how beautiful I was and if you do this I'll get you this ... and I'll make you my girlfriend." Before she knew it she was prostituting herself up to 50 times a night, the money going to her pimp or to feed the drug habit she developed, she says, to "numb the pain" of her life.
Her eyes fill with tears as she remembers: "I was just a baby. I was 12 and they preyed on me. What would a grown man want with a twelve-year-old child?!" Now 31, she is finally getting out after nearly two decades in the sex-trade.
When it comes to child and adolescent sex-trafficking in the United States, the FBI ranks Minneapolis-St. Paul among the top 13 places in the nation. With its tangle of highways known as Spaghetti Junction, its year-round sporting events and frequent conventions, millions pass through on any given day. "There's the thought no one's going to catch you in the Midwest," says Dan Pfarr who works with teens in crisis.
Editor’s Note: On CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," correspondent Deborah Feyerick reported on controversy surrounding the nationwide classified-advertising website Backpage.com. While working on the broad problem of sex trafficking, she and producer Sheila Steffen became aware of the website's adult section and how prosecutors say it's being used by some pimps to peddle girls online.
By Deborah Feyerick and Sheila Steffen, CNN
Go to Backpage.com, choose any city in any state, then click on the adult section of the nationwide classified ads website.
Young women wearing almost nothing pose provocatively. One of the first advertisements I open shows a girl in lacy black underwear. Her eyes are downcast, and she appears much younger than 19, the age stated in her ad.
No one checks whether it's true - not the ages or the identities of these young women. Someone else is clearly taking the picture. The pose appears unnatural, forced.
The text next to her photo reads, "Choke me. Spank me. Pull my hair. Do Whatever You Want...I don't Care - 19." The young woman promises "a time you will NEVER forget."
It's hard to know whether this alleged 19-year-old is doing this because she wants to or because she's being coerced. That's another thing the website doesn't check.