ending slavery. restoring lives. a pieceful movement of many voices
Kelsey Collins was 16 when she fell silly in love with a loser.
It was bound to happen. For all of her street toughness, Kelsey was naive, the kind of kid who would accept a ride from a stranger with only a vague sense that bad things could happen.
Being young, she fell for an older boy who was plenty nice at first, buying her shoes, clothes and dinners.
Which is why Kelsey was so confused when, a few months into the relationship, he hinted that she could make a lot of money.
When it finally sunk in that he wanted her to sell her body, Kelsey told him "hell, no," she later wrote. But before she knew it, or even fully understood why, Kelsey had joined hundreds of other teenage girls who are prostituted on the streets of King County, shuttled along the Interstate 5 corridor by pimps who take their money and control them through violence.
Kelsey started living a double life: She was a special-education student at Mariner High School in Everett, and she walked the streets as "Lady Dollars."
Within months, she was picked up by Portland police as she climbed out of a car in an area known for prostitution. She was tired, ready to talk, and told a detective that her new pimp, a 36-year-old man whom she had known for less than a week, had brought her to Portland.
At the detective's urging, Kelsey eventually told her story to a federal grand jury, but she vanished — without a trace — weeks after testifying.
Her family now can't stop wondering if there's a connection.
"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, an older sister. "That's what hurts so much — that she was used, and used in a way that probably cost her her life," Hicks said. "How can you ask these girls to do what they do, and then send them on their way?"
Kelsey's immersion into the dark heart of prostitution put her in the hands of police, courts and prosecutors — a system that doesn't always know how to protect teen prostitutes.
In Seattle, she was arrested and booked as a prostitute and put in juvenile detention. In Portland, police treated Kelsey as a runaway and victim. And at the federal level, before a grand jury, Kelsey was a star witness — until she disappeared.
Three jurisdictions and one troubled teen they couldn't corral, control or help.
And now they can't find her.
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