COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

Across the world, in a Russian town known for three things -- guns, beer, and vodka, according to victims advocate Olga Phoenix -- a 12-year-old Phoenix lived through war, the Soviet Union's collapse, and a unpredictably violent childhood.

 

 

"My childhood memories are not about going to school," said Phoenix. "They're about beatings, and rape and almost murder. We wouldn't walk on the road, but we would walk like behind the trees because cars would be stopping all the time on the road and women would be thrown into the cars and you'd never see them again. Or you see them dead somewhere in a ditch"

As an orphan, Phoenix and her friends would often run away to Moscow. Although she always returned by the end of summer, many of her friends had a hard time surviving on the cold streets of Russia's capital city.

"Julia came back. She had a very pronounced limp. She couldn't work anymore. She was disfigured because of the beating and broken bones. She was a different person who was completely broken. And she wasn't there anymore. What happened was they worked the streets of Moscow. They had a pimp, they couldn't leave the pimp. They were beaten, branded," said Phoenix.

 

According to the FBI, there are hundreds of thousands of American children being exploited today just like Julia.

 

"It is not happening in third-world countries with people who don't speak our language. It happens to regular people. It happens to people living across the street from you," said South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson. "You just don't know it."

 

Statistics show there are an estimated 150,000 sex trafficking victims in the United States. They are usually between 12 and 14 years old and live for just 7 years.

These victims are, on average, sold between 10 and 15 times a day for at least 6 days a week.

Only one to two percent of these victims are rescued.

"If you look at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there's probably 5,200 to 5,500 kids at a time that are missing that are expected to be in to prostitution," said FBI special agent David Thomas.

 

"People seem to think slavery has went away, but unfortunately it didn't," said Thomas. "It's still alive and well."

Thomas says it's alive and well in South Carolina because, according to him, the state is a "target-rich environment."

"We have a huge agricultural industry, and that industry kind of lends itself to that kind of activity," said Thomas. "We have tourism, a very large tourism industry; you look at Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, and Charleston."

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