SEATTLE, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- The number of young girls involved in prostitution is a "hidden epidemic," said the head of a Seattle charity that serves homeless youth.
As many as 500 children a year are believed to become prostitutes in Washington's King County, The Seattle Times reported.
The FBI last month rescued 16 children in Seattle during a nationwide prostitution crackdown, the newspaper said.
"It's a hidden epidemic," said Melinda Giovengo, executive director of YouthCare of Seattle. "We're talking about how we can get them treatment instead of detention."
The newspaper said police are cracking down on childhood prostitution and cited one example in which a special-education student called "Kelsey" got involved in the trade.
The newspaper said within months after she started prostituting herself at age 16 she was picked up by police in Portland, Ore., having been taken across the state line by her 36-year-old pimp.
Police convinced the girl to tell her story to a federal grand jury and she vanished without a trace within weeks of her testimony.
"They had a moral and ethical responsibility to my sister when they asked her to come into court and testify against a pimp," said Dominique Hicks, the girl's older sister. "That's what hurts so much, that she was used and used in a way that probably cost her her life."
Violence inflicted on juvenile victims by boyfriends-turned-pimps creates a psychological reaction so distinct it has its own name, "trauma bond," said Elisa Saphier, case manager for sexually exploited youths in Portland.
Saphier said the reaction caused by pimps is rooted in survival and victims see their captor as "giving life by simply not taking it."
"It involves physical and sexual violence to the point of torture in a way that makes [the pimp] show you what can happen to you and how they can protect you," Saphier said.
The average age of children Saphier works with is 13, the report said.