Some families might think it can't happen to their daughters, getting involved in prostitution and sex trafficking, but the New York City Police and advocates are sending out a warning that thousands are being exploited across the five boroughs. NY1's Dean Meminger filed the following report.
Teenage girls and young women hanging out on a street corner. Is it innocent fun, or are they trapped in the vicious world of sex trafficking?
"It's an ugly little secret that a lot of people don't like to talk about," said Deputy Inspector Anthony Favale, who heads up the New York City Police Department's Vice Squad, which investigates prostitution and sex trafficking.
Favale is speaking out about the issue as much as he can because officers are finding scores of young women being exploited.
"This is going on in every neighborhood in the city," Favale said.
Many times, families don't notice the signs that their daughters are in danger of being forced into sex exploitation.
"You could have a girl who was born in Brooklyn, who remained within the same vicinity of her block, and yet, she has been trafficked," said Lauren Hersh, the director of anti-trafficking policy with the advocacy organization Sanctuary for Families.
They're a part of what a pimp or trafficker calls his stable of girls.
The New York State Office of Children and Family Services says about 1,900 girls under the age of 18 are commercially sexually exploited in the city, some as young as 11 years old. Another 7,300 victims are between 18 and 21 .
Favale said the warning signs are "running away, and she's going somewhere, her friends say she is going to this house in the Bronx or in the housing developments."
Police are on the lookout for pimps, traffickers and their victims. They want the public to call 911 if they see girls and teens in trouble.
"When you call it in, say that 'I believe there's underage prostitution going on,' and that's going to trigger an automatic notification," Favale said.
Many times, police only need to turn on their computers to find out where the action is, as there are disturbing messages and photos many believe to be of girls or young women forced into the life.