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Many of these, though legal, are also fronts for underage exploitation. Shared Hope estimates that the average age of minors used as prostitutes in the U.S. is 13.

“More and more, the people looking to buy sex are looking for younger and younger kids,” said Janice Crouse, president of Concerned Women for America.

Elesia Lopez is a survivor of the child sex-trafficking system in Portland.

Her mother was a prostitute who ran a “massage parlor,” a front for illegal sex trade. At Elesia’s 13th birthday party, her mother sold her to a man for $5,000 to feed a drug habit. Elesia was given to the man as his personal sex slave.

“He took what he thought he owned and raped me multiple times,” Miss Lopez said.

She escaped, pregnant and scared. She gave up her baby for adoption and spent time in foster care before running away again. This time she was on the streets, and after eight months at a shelter for the homeless, she was recruited by her first pimp.

They traveled along the West Coast corridor, with her pimp making a rich profit off of her in Anaheim, Calif., Portland and Seattle. She wanted to escape, but she knew he would kill her if she left.

When she became pregnant again at 15, with twins, she knew she had to escape. After running again, she was stopped by a police officer who asked her what she was doing on the street.

“I really don’t know what I’m doing,” she told him.

It was a turning point in her life: She had grown up in a world where it was normal to be a prostitute or a pimp, but she finally realized that she had to try to leave it behind forever.

“I had to get to that point where I was pregnant and I didn’t want my baby to die — this was another human life,” she said.

The policeman helped get her case to court, but without secure shelter, she was still on her own. One night during the trial, her pimp found her and beat her with a baseball bat. She was 6½ months pregnant. One of her babies died; the other was born three weeks later.

Her pimp was caught and convicted, and Miss Lopez left the world of prostitution. Today she is an advocate for the Sexual Assault Resource Center, where she helps rescue girls from the streets.

“God works good out of all of this,” she said.

Stopping child sex trafficking is particularly difficult in Portland.

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