'Pager Kid' Comes in From the Night
VANCOUVER, B.C. — Amanda, who is 18 years old, was recruited at her school when she was in the seventh grade. Amanda today bears a striking resemblance to Brooke Shields, the actress - which may explain why she ended up as a high-priced "pager kid" who never really had to walk Vancouver's streets. Instead, she called her pimp and got directions to her "date" when he called her pager.
Amanda grew up in a Vancouver suburb and never lacked for anything, she says. Her parents were kind, but ignorant of the routine sexual abuse she endured at the hands of two older cousins, which began at age 6. To block such hurtful memories, she began using drugs in seventh grade and started having problems communicating with her parents.
Still, Amanda doubts she ever would have become involved in prostitution had she not been targeted by a 21-year-old boy who was hanging around her school. Only later did she learn he was working on commission as a talent scout for a pimp working in downtown Vancouver.
"I was 13 when I started meeting this guy after school - I didn't know he was a pimp," says Amanda, looking down, embarrassed at the recollection. "He and his friends were spoiling me. But it was just a setup. They look for young, naive, stupid people. And ... I was messed up."
After almost three years of going on "dates" and turning over the proceeds to a man she thought of as her "boyfriend," Amanda finally went home for good. Begging her mother for help, she told her for the first time what was really going on.
Amanda's parents put her immediately into the Children of the Night program in Los Angeles. The only such program in North America, it provides long-term care and counseling for the effects of massive sexual abuse and readjustment to normal living.
In the program, she was required to spend many hours on basic activities like knitting and sewing. At first, it drove her up the wall. But then she began to understand her need to break free of her former way of thinking. "I finally realized that it wasn't just me who fell for this. They [the pimps] went through my whole school and picked who they needed," she says.
Lois Lee, who runs Children of the Night, calls Vancouver's young recruiters (17 to 22 year olds) in schools "popcorn pimps." It is a phenomenon she hasn't seen in prostitution outside Vancouver and speculates that it may be because of the local sex trade's high demand for children.
Amanda's road back to normal life has not been easy. She recently lost a job at a pizza parlor and is looking for another. She has a high-school equivalency degree and will soon enroll in junior college. She lives on her own - and relations with her parents are strained. Still, she is hopeful about the future.
"Those years went by like a bad dream," she says. "I'm still coming to terms with my past. I'm not at peace with it. But I'm stronger now. And I know this: I wouldn't have had to go through this if someone didn't take advantage of me."