Many prostitutes—especially the women who suffered abuse as children—look at their pimp as a "father figure," Lisa says. "These pimps come along, and they offer [prostitutes] security, and they say, 'We'll take care of you. We'll take care of your kids.' So the girls often trust them. ... They'll do anything they say."
Law enforcement agents tell Lisa that when they bust pimps at their homes, they have to bring extra squad cars and child safety seats, because there are so many kids in the house. "It is sickening," Lisa says.
Oftentimes, prostitutes don't see a penny of the money they earn on the streets. Every dollar goes into the pocket of their pimp, Lisa explains. So why are so many young women becoming prostitutes? Special Agent Beaver says the glamorization of the sex industry in music and on TV contributes to the problem. "Society today, in many ways, condones it," he says. "We have little people growing up seeing that and that's what they think is acceptable."
Despite what some may think, there's nothing glamorous about prostitution. According to the Inter-Press Service, an international journalists' organization, the number one cause of death among prostitutes is murder.
As a child, Marie lived on a tree-lined street with her family. She excelled in dance, was accepted to a prestigious arts college and dreamed of becoming a ballerina. She never imagined she'd end up on the streets, selling her body and working for a pimp.
Marie says she met her pimp at a bus stop when she was on her way home from class. The man continuously called her and finally convinced her to meet him at a local bar, where he persuaded her to try prostitution. "He told me that I was a superstar...that it would be easy for me to make a lot of money," she says. Within 24 hours of meeting with the pimp, Marie turned her first trick.
At home, Marie's mother began noticing changes in her daughter, and then, Marie disappeared from home. Her parents didn't know if she was dead or alive.
Marie says her pimp kept her on the move, moving her through three states. Every day, Marie claims she was given a quota and turned up to 12 tricks a day.
When her pimp became violent, Marie got the courage to leave and returned home to her family. She was on the streets for eight months and estimates that she had sex with 300 people.
Marie's mother says she hopes their story will be a warning to parents. "When you come from a family like ours, prostitution isn't even something that you would even think about would happen," she says. "If it can happen to our family, it can happen to anybody."
Contessa is a mother of five who never imagined that she would end up selling her body to strangers. "Before the drugs and prostitution, I was happy," she says. "Life was going really well."
When Contessa's husband left her, she says she started abusing drugs and turned to prostitution to support her crack habit. "I felt what I was doing was wrong," she says. "But I couldn't stop."
The dark side of prostitution made life on the streets a never-ending nightmare. Contessa says she was raped twice, sliced across the face and stabbed with an ice pick while turning tricks. "After a while, the family stopped showing up at the hospital because I think they were getting tired of it," she says. "When they stopped showing up, I knew I had nothing, nobody."
After working as a prostitute for almost two years, Contessa says her turning point came when a man put a gun to her head. "That's when I knew I had to stop," she says. "I just saw myself getting shot. I knew my prayers didn't work any more."
Contessa says it's been two years since she stopped prostituting herself. Now, Contessa is working with PRIDE, a non-profit organization in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that helps women get out and stay out of prostitution. She has a job and a place to live, but she can't let go of her past. "I don't feel clean yet," she says. "I feel like a dirty person all the time. ... They have just used me up so much. They turned me into nothing."
Oprah tells Contessa that she is not all used up, and she must have faith in herself to move on and begin a new life.
"If you believe yourself, as you've told the world today, that you're all used up, then your life will be," Oprah says. "There's nothing else that could ever possibly happen that would bring you joy, that would bring you meaning, that would bring you a sense of fulfillment if that is what you believe. You become what you believe. ... God has great plans for you. Great things will happen to you in your life."
When Oprah looks into Contessa's eyes, she says she sees herself. "When I was 14 years old, I was running the streets," she says. "And there but for the grace of God, if my father hadn't taken me in, I could have been you or any one of the girls here."
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