It is a crime that affects thousands of children across the world: Sex trafficking.
Here in the United States, and in Texas especially, it’s happening at alarming numbers.
According to the Trafficking in America Task Force, some 2,000 to 3,000 children are victims each year, with 25 percent of those victims coming from Texas.
Melissa Woodward, a former victim who now runs a home for children of abuse, spoke to a crowd at the Cameo Theatre on Tuesday to share her story.
Woodward says she was began being groomed for the sex trade at age 4, and by the time she was 10, she was being passed around and sold at bars in the Dallas area.
Two years later, at the age of 12, her captor forced her into daily prostitution, and denied her food and medical care.
“I was taken to an underground area, where I was held in captivity for almost a year and a half,” said Woodward. “I was chained to a metal twin size bed, and was forced to service between five and 30 men a night."
Woodward's story took a horrifying turn at the age of 14, when she was burned from the waist down after a customer wanted to see her burn to death. Though she survived the ordeal, it took multiple surgeries and years to recover.
Woodward says she’s now made it her mission, to help others.
"Through prayer and through love and through all of the services they need. These girls need extensive medical care, they need extensive counseling,” Woodward said. “They need a chance to rebuild and regain their lives."
Organizers of Tuesday’s conference says more needs to be done to educate the public on this growing problem.
"America is driving some of this, and we need to realize that it is happening, become educated, face it, and do something about it," said Yvonne Williams, executive director of the Trafficking in America Task Force.