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So Houston police charged the pregnant, 16-year-old sex-trafficking victim with a crime — she says it was prostitution, though juvenile records are not public — and sent her to juvenile detention.
Sex-trafficking experts and victims' advocates agree that Lena didn't belong behind bars.
It was no surprise to Lena when she ended up behind bars for offering an undercover police officer oral sex in exchange for money. In their eyes, she was not a prostitute; she was a child who had been sexually exploited and needed protection and care.
Lena and teenage victims like her end up in jail for one simple reason: There's nowhere else for them to go.
"If I dismiss her case, she's just walking on the street that night." Lena was 13 when she ran away from her first residential treatment center, in a suburb of Houston. She'd been there for nearly a year with no sign of a more stable solution.
Most foster families didn’t want to take in a teenager with a checkered past.
Then she'd get scared or decide it was time to move, and return to foster care — then run away again.
But they aren't equipped to treat the type of trauma sex-trafficking victims have been through.She would need months of specialized psychological and medical care.But she couldn't get any of it if she didn't stay put.She slept on a metal bunk and wore an oversized orange jumpsuit every day.She went to the bathroom with no privacy, using a toilet attached to the wall. At school, where she wore turtlenecks and baggy clothes to hide her bruises.