On a chilly evening in Central Valley, the agricultural heart of California, Carissa Phelps is driving down a street known as Motel Drive, tucked between a park and railroad tracks in the shadow of Highway 99. A few women – some looking more like teens – stand on street corners, eyeing potential customers, preparing for the night ahead. Not much has changed since Phelps stood on these very same corners 19 years ago, a girl with nowhere to go but the streets. She was 12, hungry and alone when a man three times her age picked her up, bought her a hot dog and Pepsi, then brought her to a motel here. It was the beginning of a life she never thought she’d survive.
But now she is 31, a law and business school graduate of the University of California-Los Angeles, a star in an upcoming documentary about her life and a spokeswoman for teenagers forced to turn to prostitution when they have no other way to survive. She is profiled by USA Today. Children being forced into prostitution is “America’s dirty little secret,” says one advocate. Phelps wants to put the spotlight on prostituted children by sharing her story, which is decidedly unglamorous and all too common: a story of a girl from a broken home with no place to go.