Leslie King with Sacred Beginnings prays with a sex trafficking victim in Grand Rapids
GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- Michigan State Police say ten teenage girls forced into prostitution are now safe thanks to a national crackdown.
Authorities found them in Wayne, Genesee, Oakland and Macomb Counties, and FBI agents arrested 18 suspected pimps in the state, one of whom, now faces charges.
The girls were listed as missing or runaways in Michigan.
Nationwide, the FBI says agents rescued 105 children during the three-day sweep called Operation Cross Country.
Here in West Michigan, local FBI officials tell us no raids took place, but whether or not it's an issue here depends on who you ask.
Grand Rapids Police say they deal with few cases and say the problem hasn't increased. Two non-profits that focus directly on sex trafficking in this area say children, especially young teenage girls, are in the trade.
Andy Soper with Wedgewood Christian Services and Leslie King with Sacred Beginnings say the problem is, many adults aren't aware of it, so they don't know what a victim always looks like.
"You ain't finding them because this is how they dress. You're looking for stilettos," says King.
King is the queen of finding girls and boys caught in the Grand Rapids-area sex trade. She estimates she comes across 10 girls a month on the streets of Kent County.
"You think this is 'Pretty Woman,' no, this is not 'Pretty Woman.' This is life," she says.
She herself was sold on a local corner at age 15, and now runs Sacred Beginnings to find these victims, pray with them, and help them find life out of prostitution. She estimates she comes across 10 victims a month, scattered throughout Grand Rapids, Wyoming, and Kentwood. She says Sacred Beginnings has rescued 450 girls, boys, and adults. She says 20 percent of all the victims are boys.
"At night you'll see them, Franklin and Eastern, Bridge, Leonard, I see them," she says.
Non-profit Wedgewood Christian Services also helps victims and starting working with Grand Rapids Police this year. Kentwood Police was successful in solving one case. The Kent County Prosecutor's Office has only had two cases in the last two years.
King says more needs to be done.
"Sit down and listen to what I have to say instead of saying it's not here," she says.
King says children shift from one side of town to the next, one trap house to the next.
"A lot of times we have drug dealers in there which now days are the so-called pimps. They get runaways and tell them how much they love them," she says.
King says if you're driving along the areas she identified, pay extra attention to the street.
"The girls are always turning their heads, turning their heads, looking for a car to turn the corner," she says.
King says the girls will talk to someone in the car before getting in.
"Half an hour later, you'll see her again on the same block," says King.
And those providing the cash?
"It's a whole lot of millionaires. You'd be surprised the men who travel down Division or any other area and pick up these women," she says. "White collar, blue collar, attorneys, you'd be shocked. That's all I'm going to tell you. You'd be shocked."
She hopes the public, and the police will help bring a terrible problem out of the dark into the light.
The state recently launched a task force to address the growing problem and there's talk of new internet trafficking laws this fall.
If you suspect human trafficking, you're asked to call: 1-888-373-7888 or text: BeFree 233733.