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December 2nd, 2010
11:59 PM ET

Held as slaves, now free

Scott Bronstein, Amber Lyon and Alexandra Poolos
CNN

Newark, New Jersey (CNN) - They arrived in the United States from West Africa, young girls held against their will and forced to work for hours on end. This didn't happen hundreds of years ago.

Nicole's journey started in 2002, when she was barely 12, in her small village in western Ghana. She and about 20 other girls were held in plain sight, but always under the watchful eyes of their captors.

Related: Surviving slavery

"It was like being trapped, like being in a cage," said "Nicole," now 19. CNN agreed not to use her real name.

"I always have to behave, behave, behave, behave. No freedom at all."

The girls' families sent them to the United States after being assured they would receive a better education. But once they arrived, they were forced to work in hair braiding shops across the Newark area - just a short drive from New York City, right in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty.

The girls, who are now young women, have never spoken publicly before, until now.

Full story


Filed under: 360° Radar • Alexandra Poolos • Amber Lyon • Scott Bronstein
September 15th, 2010
10:44 AM ET

Online sex ads complicate crackdowns on teen trafficking

Steve Turnham and Amber Lyon
CNN Special Investigations Unit

(CNN) - Behind every adult service ad on the internet is a story.

Sometimes it's a story of a grown woman who has chosen prostitution as a path to a better life. More often, it's a story of a woman being forced to sell her body by a pimp.

And then there are the children, and the mothers that miss them.

"They told me to look on Craigslist and it almost blew my mind," the mother of one missing 12-year-old told CNN. "She was there with a wig on. She was there in a purple negligee.

"She's a normal 12-year-old - Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers, they're her favorite," the mother said. "She's always screaming and hollering and singing. She's a great young lady."

The same day the woman spoke to CNN, her daughter was rescued by police at a seedy hotel near Washington where she was being sold for sex. And she's not alone.

Full story


Filed under: 360° Radar • Amber Lyon
September 2nd, 2010
09:12 AM ET
August 25th, 2010
06:31 PM ET
August 9th, 2010
03:47 PM ET

Sold on Craigslist: Critics say sex ad crackdown inadequate

Editor's note: Watch an update on the investigation into Craigslist's adult services section on AC360 tonight at 10 p.m. ET.

Steve Turnham and Amber Lyon
CNN Special Investigations Unit

On a late afternoon in early June, undercover police officers circled a one-story highway motel north of Washington. Inside was a 12-year-old girl who told her mother she was being forced to work as a prostitute.

According to her mother, the girl had started running away from home earlier this year. She found out her daughter was in the sex trade when she saw her in an adult online classified ad. The girl was advertising herself as a 24-year-old with a bogus name. The next time she ran away, her mother reported her missing.

Read the police press release

According to police and anti-trafficking advocates, the internet has now become the preferred way to sell women for sex. It's fast and convenient for the pimps and relatively safe for the men who pay for sex. Instead of trolling the streets, they can now look through hundreds of girls from the safety of their homes or hotels.

This time, the girl was lucky. She called home, and the call was traced to a Knight's Inn in Laurel, Maryland, where police were quickly on the scene. They rescued the girl and arrested a 42-year-old man and charged him with human trafficking.

Of all the sites that offer "adult services," Craigslist is one of the most popular. The online classified ad site is used regularly by about 50 million Americans for everything from buying used lawn furniture to finding a job or a roommate.

It's also used to sell sex, making Craigslist a prime target of a nationwide campaign against internet prostitution.

"Most of the young women we've worked with who have been exploited online talk about Craigslist," said Andrea Powell of the anti-trafficking group The FAIR Fund. "Craigslist is like the Wal-Mart of online sex trafficking right now in this country."

According to police who investigated the case of the missing 12-year-old, she had previously advertised on Craigslist under a false name and age. Craigslist declined to provide copies of the ad, citing privacy concerns.

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark defended his site, saying it is doing more than any other site that hosts adult ads to help filter out underage prostitutes and report them to police.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • Amber Lyon • Crime & Punishment • Steve Turnham
August 9th, 2010
03:30 PM ET
August 5th, 2010
07:18 PM ET