Inside the world of child sex trafficking
Produced by Chris Young Ritzen
[This story previously aired on March 31, 2018. It was updated on March 9, 2019.]
According to the FBI, sex trafficking of children in this country has become a nationwide problem. And traffickers target troubled girls with low self-esteem — girls like Alyssa Beck.
Beck was just a naïve 15 year old living in Jacksonville, Florida, when she found herself trapped in a sex trafficker’s web. She would be in and out of their trap for almost five years.
CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller has been following Beck’s story and the horrific world of sex trafficking of kids. It could happen to anyone – that’s why actor and activist Ashton Kutcher has taken on this cause to save other young victims.
Alyssa Beck: I was searching for something. …But I didn’t know what I was searching for. …I just wanted to be free. …I don’t remember being popular when I was growing up. But I always got good grades. …I was really nice and sweet as a child. …But we had problems at home. … There has to be something else. Something better than living like this. …I’m just gonna run away.
Heather Beck | Alyssa’s mom: The first couple of times Alyssa ran away, you know, we would get in the car, we would drive around. …I have no idea where she was. I was terrified. Is she in the dumpster or is she in that trash bag on the side of the road and will I ever see her again?
Alyssa Beck: I was a naïve 15-year-old.
Alyssa Beck: I didn’t know the streets, so I didn’t know the bad things that came with it.
Alyssa Beck: I just thought that it would be fun, you know, maybe party, maybe drink. …But I never would of been prepared for what really happened.
Lawanda Ravoira | President, Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center: I would describe Alyssa when I first met her as afraid. As cautious. …Her experiences were some of the most violent, the most traumatic, that I’ve seen.
Alyssa Beck: My every day life was laying there, naked, beaten and allowing guys to come and pay 10, 20 dollars to do whatever they wanted to me.
Mac Heavener| Prosecutor: She was being forced to do it.
Mac Heavener: We are talking about buying and selling children for sex acts.
Michelle Miller: How many men?
Shannon Schott | Juvenile justice expert and lawyer: Fifty. …Over the course of two weeks.
Heather Beck: It never crossed my mind in my wildest dreams that my child was involved in human trafficking.
Sen. Bob Corker | R-Tenn: Our first witness today is Mr. Ashton Kutcher.
Ashton Kutcher[ to Congress]: As part of my anti-trafficking work, I’ve met victims in Russia, in India, victims in New York and New Jersey and all across our country. …I’ve been on FBI raids where I’ve seen things that no person should ever see.
Ashton Kutcher: I have a hard time talking about this issue without being emotional.
Michelle Miller: Why this cause?
Ashton Kutcher: I was just so appalled … If you don’t do something about it, then who are you?
Ashton Kutcher: It can happen to anyone … Traffickers prey on people and they know exactly what’s gonna turn their trigger.
Alyssa Beck: These traffickers made me feel like I was loved. You know I was running from something … and I was running to love and acceptance.
Shannon Schott: She believed these men until they were actively hurting her.
Alyssa Beck: I didn’t want to die. You know I saw some light at the end of the tunnel. And I just knew, like I had to get out of the situation. I had to live through this. …And that is when it got real.
TARGET: TROUBLED TEENS
A massage parlor in a Florida strip mall gained worldwide notoriety last month when New England Patriots’ billionaire owner, Robert Kraft, was charged with soliciting prostitution there. He pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors believe workers at the parlor— and that’s put a spotlight on this hidden crime with a devastating cost. Last year, “48 Hours” began following one teen’s harrowing story.
Alyssa Beck never imagined she would become a victim of child sex trafficking.
Alyssa Beck: Whenever I’m over on this side of town, I kinda feel chills in my body. …It brings back a lot of memories
But this is not just Alyssa’s story; the sex trafficking of children is a nationwide problem.
It’s why every year the FBI launches Operation Cross Country, a vast sting operation to rescue children.
In 2017, in just four days, the FBI recovered 84 children and arrested 120 alleged sex traffickers.
Special Agent Courtney Harrison: I mean they’re predators. They find a vulnerability and they jump on it.
Special Agent Courtney Harrison is a member of Jacksonville’s Human Trafficking Task Force. Florida is a hot spot and Harrison sees the work of sex traffickers every day.
Special Agent Courtney Harrison: They manipulate people. They’re very greedy, self-indulgent. They brag about, ‘Look at the money,” look at, ya know, “I’m enslaving these girls” is a quote that we got from one of our pimps.
And she says they target troubled girls just like Alyssa.
Alyssa grew up in a middle class family, the third of four children. She was a good student, but in her early teens, she started breaking her parents’ rules by hanging out with boys and staying out late.
Alyssa Beck: Part of it was me being a rebellious teenager. And honestly really just being a child. But also because my father and mother, they, you know, they had problems of their own. My father did used to drink and that just caused a lot of problems with the whole family.
Shannon Schott: Her life was not what she wanted.
Shannon Schott is a juvenile justice expert and Alyssa’s lawyer.
Shannon Schott: She was seeing a family situation between her mother and her father, her father who was drinking and was verbally abusive and just a very hard person to live with.
Things came to a head in March of 2008 when Alyssa was 13 years old. She and her older sister were caught sneaking a boy into their room late at night.
Alyssa Beck: I mean we were just hanging out. It was very innocent. Nothing going on.
But she says her father became enraged. As punishment, he hit them with a belt. Police were called and social services investigated the incident. In the report, Alyssa’s father admitted that he “spanked the girls,” but he did “not beat them.” He also stated he “drinks, but he does not discipline the children when drinking.”
Alyssa’s mom Heather says she and her husband may not have been perfect parents, but they were not abusive.
Heather Beck: We were very young parents. I think we were just doing what we thought was the best that we could.
In the end, the investigation concluded there were “no indicators of family violence.” But Alyssa says she no longer felt loved or safe at home.
Alyssa Beck: So now I just have to leave the house. …I’m just gonna run away. …That’s what started it all.
At first, Alyssa ran away for just days at a time, mostly staying with friends. Gradually she stayed away longer. This went on for nearly a year.
Heather Beck: It was emotionally torturous. …I had no idea where to turn for help.
Shannon Schott: Alyssa just was looking for something better. The grass is always greener. …And she was a teenager … She was, you know, making some choices that weren’t the best choices.
Alyssa started experimenting with drinking and drugs. Then, when she was 14, she got caught giving a police officer a false name — a criminal offense.
Alyssa Beck: I gave them a false name because I didn’t want to get caught, ya know? And I would just — I didn’t want to go home.
When notified by police, Heather says she was desperate and went along with the recommendation to have her daughter arrested.
Heather Beck: I was told that since Alyssa was a continual runaway … if I had her arrested for providing a false name, she would be able to receive additional services.
Alyssa was sent to a juvenile treatment facility and received counseling for substance abuse.
Shannon Schott: At the time, Heather was confident that this would be a good choice.
Michelle Miller: Was it a mistake?
Shannon Schott: Absolutely.
Heather, like many parents, had no idea sex traffickers often prey on troubled children at these facilities.
Shannon Schott: The juvenile justice system’s intention is to rehabilitate your kids … But if you have a child who needs counseling, and who needs help because they’ve been through some serious trauma, they’re going to probably find worse friends.
And sure enough, one month into her stay, Alyssa met a 17-year-old girl who would change her life.
Alyssa Beck: I mean, this girl she was just powerful. …that’s what I wanted to be. You know I wanted to have a voice and stand out. So I remember one day … she was just talking about these places to go and how much fun she used to have outside of this rehab setting. And … she then asked me and another girl if we wanted to run away. And without thinking I was just like, “Yeah, let’s do it.”
So they took off and the girl from the juvenile facility led them to Jacksonville’s Sin City, a dangerous, crime ridden area with a lot of motels you rent by the hour.
Alyssa Beck: I remember… going to that area and just having this weird feeling, ya know. It was so — it was dark, and … it was intimidating, scary, cold and different.
And it was here that Alyssa quickly learned that the older girl was not who she thought she was.
Alyssa Beck: She told us, “Hey I’m a prostitute.” …You know, I heard about prostitution and stuff like that in movies, but I don’t think I still understood what prostitution was. The girl was like, “Either you’re gonna work for us or you’re gonna leave.” …So me and the other girl, we’re like, “Oh, well don’t worry about it. We’ll just go.”
But she didn’t just go. Fearing she would be arrested for fleeing the juvenile rehab facility, Alyssa says she was too scared to leave, too scared to go home, and too scared to ask for help.
Alyssa Beck: I still can’t go home. I don’t want to go to jail, or I don’t want to get arrested. So I decided to stay.
Alyssa didn’t know it yet, but she had walked right into a trap.
TRICKS AND THREATS
Alyssa Beck: At 15 years old, I never even heard of sex trafficking.
But the trap was already set. The young woman Alyssa had run away with introduced her to a series of men. They let her stay with them in seedy motels and apartments. Alyssa didn’t know it, but she was being groomed by traffickers.
Alyssa Beck: I thought these guys were my boyfriends. … They were nice … Sweet, kind. …They gave me food … They gave me the clothes that I needed, the hair stuff, the makeup and they made me feel pretty.
Alyssa Beck: Everything that was missing in my life they supplied to me.
Lawanda Ravoira: It’s easy to get tricked. And that’s what traffickers are masters at.
Lawanda Ravoira works with girls who have been trafficked.
Lawanda Ravoira: It’s tricking girls into believing that they are their friend, that they care about them. And particularly, when there’s trouble at home, you’re now in a space that feels safe.
After living on the streets for about two weeks, Alyssa was introduced to Ian Sean Gordon, a 28-year-old unemployed father of two.
Alyssa Beck: I thought that Sean was a good guy. …He was fun.
But Prosecutor Mac Heavener says Gordon had a criminal record.
Mac Heavener: To him, she’s just an income flow.
He saw Alyssa as a commodity.
Mac Heavener: The moment he saw Alyssa and saw what she needed … he said, “I’m gonna make a lot of money off of this girl.”
And just days after meeting Gordon, he became violent.
Alyssa Beck: I remember him just really brutally beating me and raping me.
Alyssa Beck: I was staring at him ’cause I was so scared, I thought he was gonna keep beating me. And he ended up coming and shoving a pillow over my face and he was like, “Don’t look at me, you can’t look at me. You can’t look at me.”And then he … started taking pictures of me. And I heard him start call to people and telling them, “Hey, I have this girl here, you can come do whatever you want to her, just for 20 dollars.”
Alyssa Beck: I remember trying to fight back. I … tried kicking him, and that only made it worse. It made it really bad then. Sorry, I feel sick …
Mac Heavener: It’s not uncommon for sex traffickers to use violence to compel their victims to do things. Ian Sean Gordon … would hit her repeatedly. …he would take all of her clothes and leave her in a hotel room naked — in between customers. To basically prevent her from running away and escaping.
Alyssa says Gordon also tied her to the bed, and besides the daily beatings, he threatened to harm her family.
Mac Heavener: He had her convinced that he had been staking her out and knew all about her, knew all about her family and that things would happen to her family if she didn’t comply with what he said.
Michelle Miller: It’s a form of terror?
Mac Heavener: Yeah, it very much was.
Alyssa Beck: He mentally frightened me into believing that if I try to run, I was gonna go to jail, I was gonna die, or he was gonna kill my family.
Alyssa Beck: I was just living in so much fear that I didn’t even think escaping was an option.
In addition to controlling her with fear, Gordon also fed Alyssa drugs. It’s a trick that Heavener says traffickers often use.
Mac Heavener: They know that pain and the addiction can force their victims into providing more services in order to get their fix.
Alyssa Beck: I do remember just men just coming in. At one point, I was laying on the bed completely naked, cause that is how I always stayed. And opening my eyes and just seeing a blur of a man on top of me and just saying, “No, no get off of me.”
Alyssa Beck: And just being so high and trying to remove myself from my own body. So that I wouldn’t feel the pain and the hands of these dirty men and what they were doing to me.
It was at the Regency Inn Motel, and many others like it, where authorities believe that over a course of two weeks, Alyssa was raped by dozens of men.
Alyssa Beck: Men that could be anyone’s father, anyone’s uncle, anyone’s cousin — brother.
And Alyssa says she was even bought by a pastor.
Alyssa Beck: And if ever thought there was a God, at that point, I completely — I just completely lost faith in anything that I ever thought was real.
But in her darkest days, there was one person who kept her going.
Alyssa Beck [breaks down]: I remember one time I was there and it was after a really bad beating and rape. And I remember sitting there and thinking about my little brother. And I just remember thinking about my brother’s smile. And just thinking about his innocence.
And after about two weeks of being held captive, Alyssa says she somehow summoned the strength to escape. When Gordon wasn’t around, she bolted, barely dressed. But she didn’t get far.
Alyssa Beck: Next thing you know this thing comes behind me and grabs me by my hair and this thing was Sean. He came and grabbed me, he started dragging me and I started screaming to the top of my lungs … I remember him looking at me and just telling me, “You’re gonna die today.” …I was like paralyzed in fear. Like that fear was holding me down. Like I was restrained to like a metal black chair.
Gordon threw her into his car, and when the car was stopped she attempted to escape … once more.
Alyssa Beck: I took my seatbelt off and I ran down this expressway beaten, bloody … At that point, I think I passed out. …I guess some would say I was free at that point. But that really only started the journey.
When Alyssa came to, not far from the highway, Ian Sean Gordon was nowhere to be found. Not knowing where to go, Alyssa made her way back to the Regency Inn and called her mother for help.
Heather Beck: And I picked up the phone and she said, “Mom I need help.” …And I just said, “Ya know, well, where are — where are you? I will come get you. Where are you?”
Heather raced to the motel and called police not knowing what Alyssa had been through
Heather Beck: I just said, “I need help.”
Alyssa was coming down from drugs. She was so shattered she was not able to articulate — or even comprehend — the magnitude of what had happened to her.
Alyssa Beck: I just had endured rape after rape after beating after beating. And no food, my hygiene was probably terrible at that point. I just … looked like death.
But at the time, the only thing she reported to police was that Ian Sean Gordon had raped her. She characterized herself as a prostitute, because that’s how she saw herself then.
Alyssa Beck: People labeled me as promiscuous, bad girl, prostitute, criminal, juvenile delinquent. And you know, after hearing that so many times, I started believing it myself.
Alyssa was briefly treated at a hospital. But, she was also placed under arrest. Remember, Alyssa had violated her probation by running from that court-ordered rehab. So she was sent to a lockdown juvenile detention center.
Alyssa Beck: They didn’t treat me like a victim. …I was just like another criminal in their eyes.
Ian Sean Gordon was brought in for questioning by police. At first he spun a story that Alyssa was a willing participant.
Shannon Schott | Juvenile justice expert and lawyer: Ian Sean Gordon is telling law enforcement, “Hey it was consensual. …She wanted to do this. I’m not a part of this at all.” So … the whole narrative of the report is written from the perspective of “she wanted this.” …No mention of the fact that she was probably 90 pounds soaking wet, five foot tall and was 15 years old.
But given her age and condition, Alyssa’s case raised red flags. Federal prosecutor Mac Heavener and his investigator, Detective Richard Trew, were called in. They were part of Jacksonville’s Human Trafficking Task Force which was just getting off the ground.
Shannon Schott: And they had a very different opinion about what happened. …Because they knew what was going on. They were aware of how bad this problem was becoming in the United States.
Trew, a former vice squad cop, was pioneering a new approach to dealing with sex trafficking victims.
Det. Richard Trew: Pretty much back in the day, I was out there, it was our job to pick up as many girls in a shift as we possibly could. …Your job was to make arrests.
But he says it was his former partner FBI Agent Eileen Jacob, who has since passed away, who taught him another side.
Michelle Miller: What was the other side? What was the side that vice squad wasn’t getting?
Det. Richard Trew: These girls don’t choose to be there. You — you got to hear their story.
Alyssa Beck: I just thought it was my fault, and that I got myself into this situation because I ran away and if I was never that rebellious teenager, this wouldn’t have happened to me.
Within days of hearing Alyssa’s story, Jacob and Trew were the ones to gently tell her that, in fact, she been sex trafficked.
Alyssa Beck: Eileen was the first one that really tried to convince me … Like, Alyssa, you’re a victim. You know you never asked these men to do things to you. And even though you made these mistakes, you did not deserve this.
Alyssa was transferred from the detention center to another juvenile rehab facility. And as difficult as it was, she soon told investigators every detail she remembered about what had happened to her.
Mac Heavener: Alyssa had such a vivid recollection and such a detailed memory of what had happened. She gave us the map, so to speak, to go create cases against these people.
So much so that Prosecutor Mac Heavener took a risk. Not only was the task force going to go after Ian Sean Gordon, but they were going to be one of the first in the country to go after some of the customers who bought Alyssa.
Mac Heavener: For us, it was very important to send that message that we’re gonna go after both sides of this crime. Because both individuals, the trafficker and the customer, are what’s required to exploit sexually a child like this.
By the summer of 2010, Operation Abandoned Hope led to the arrests of seven people who were involved in buying or trafficking Alyssa, including the mastermind, Ian Sean Gordon.
Sheriff to reporters: Sex trafficking of the nature alleged in this operation was tantamount to slavery.
Gordon and five others plead guilty to sex trafficking or related charges. One was convicted of producing child pornography for filming Alyssa.
Michelle Miller: Essentially, you had what, seven defendants?
Det. Richard Trew: Yes.
Michelle Miller: From a single victim?
Det. Richard Trew: Yes.
Michelle Miller: That doesn’t happen very often does it?
Det. Richard Trew: No it doesn’t. And I think we had this based on her ability to remember vividly everything that she had been through — every encounter, every place, what people drove, what they wore. And we put it all together.
Alyssa had to relive the trauma over and over again as she sat through the many sentencing hearings. Her mother made sure she attended each of them with her.
Heather Beck [emotional]: I think it was important for her to know that I was her mother and I was never gonna leave her side.
When it was time for Ian Sean Gordon to be sentenced, Alyssa found her voice.
Alyssa Beck: And I remember strongly getting up there … and like fiercely reading this poem in front of the whole courtroom:
“I ran away from a substance-abuse program and I never thought I’d be in the grip of a man that wanted to steal my innocence.
He pulled me in with his kindness and pushed me out with his violence.
I was only 15 and naïve, he fed me with a poison that altered my mind and made me leave my family behind.
I was stuck on crack and the demon was stuck on my back.
I’ve heard of the stories of girls like me running away but I never thought that I would see this day.
I went from living at a nice house on the beach to living from motel to motel and being thrown out on the streets.
Bloody, broken, and bruised I never felt so used.
Used for another man’s pleasure and greed but he made me think he was supplying me with what I need.
But deep down inside the little girl had to hide.
Scared to show what lies within a body infested with another man’s sin.
The devil had my soul, but don’t get me wrong I didn’t hand it to him.
I was being sold for 100 something men to hold.
These men gave me orders and I couldn’t refuse because I was the one being abused.
Do you know what it’s like to wake up with a swollen face not knowing the location of the place where I lie hopeless on the floor? But I’ll tell you one thing my boss sure wasn’t poor.
I attended these meetings where I was instructed to take these beatings discussing the price of the cost but money couldn’t find this soul that was lost.
He taught me the tricks of the trade. He had me believe my life was made but in reality I was just his sex slave.
Brainwashed into believing but it was God I was deceiving.
I was no longer human I was a product for this man. I was his walking contraband.
I hated this lifestyle but I was forced to like it because I lived it for such a while.
I was the Devils employee but it wasn’t hard to see that all I wanted to be was free.
So one day I try to escape for my own life sake.
But I was turned into the man I most disgusted by the people I most trusted.
Threatened with a gun if I try to run again, now I’m sitting here putting the pieces together so I won’t have to live this life forever.
All this time I’ve been digging my own grave but now I’m saved. Look at me now my spirit is healed but it took this long for my true feelings to be revealed I’ve been through it all.
I lived through all the flashbacks, through all the nightmares and this time I will make sure I don’t fall.”
Alyssa Beck: I remember feeling on top of the world after I read that poem because that was like my closing to him. That was the last thing that I was ever gonna say to him.
And while Alyssa waited to find out Gordon’s fate, actor and activist Ashton Kutcher was on a mission of his own — developing software to rescue sex trafficking victims.
Ashton Kutcher: These victims … find safety in someone, anyone, anywhere, that will show what they think is love.
A CRUEL CYCLE
Ian Sean Gordon’s life was now in the hands of Judge Marcia Morales Howard. She could sentence him to as little as 15 years and as much as life in prison.
Judge Marcia Morales Howard: Selling a 15-year-old girl is bad enough. But he did so much more than that.
Judge Marcia Morales Howard: He beat her. He raped her. …And I just did not believe that any human being who thought it was OK to do that, had any hope of redemption.
Judge Marcia Morales Howard: A life sentence was the only sentence.
Life in prison — one of the first ever life sentences given to a trafficker in this country.
Judge Marcia Morales Howard: The sentence spoke to the brutality and the violence and the complete and utter lack of respect for human life. She was alive. But in many ways, he destroyed her.
Actor and tech entrepreneur Aston Kutcher is determined to stop the destruction caused by sex traffickers.
It was back in 2009 that he Demi Moore watched news reports about child sex slaves and were so horrified they founded an organization that is now called Thorn.
Ashton Kutcher: What we do at our core is we build technology to help fight sexual exploitation of children.
Kutcher knew that tech was a tool of traffickers and that Thorn had to focus on Internet sites like Backpage.com, where sex traffickers advertised children for sale.
Ashton Kutcher: If you look at the place where these people are sold online, its right next to a car, or a sofa or a used bicycle.
So he gathered a team of experts with one goal in mind: to identify and find victims quickly.
Ashton Kutcher: You can roll up your sleeves and go try to be like a hero and save one person or you can build a tool that allows one person to save a lot of people.
And while the tech tool was in development, Kutcher was also raising awareness about the severe mental manipulation victims suffer at the hands of their traffickers.
Ashton Kutcher [to audience]: There’s a mental health issue that happens when you have that kind of trauma.
Ashton Kutcher: “Here’s a brand new Gucci belt … but you need to turn 10 tricks today or I’m gonna beat the s— out of you.” “…Here’s a place to live and some food today. Oh, now you’re addicted to drugs so I got your next fix for you but you gotta go turn 10 to 20 tricks.”
Michelle Miller: I want to show you one of our kids. Her name’s Alyssa. She was 15 years old when she was trafficked.
Kutcher never met Alyssa, but her story is all too familiar.
Ashton Kutcher: It’s a very complicated psychological problem.
And the emotional fallout from trafficking can be overwhelming. When Alyssa finally returned home to her family, her story didn’t end there.
Alyssa Beck: At first, I had really bad nightmares — flashbacks. And it was, it was really hard just to sleep without thinking that I was gonna get woken up — by him beating me — or wake up with somebody on top of me.
In February of 2011, Alyssa, who was now 16 years old, was crushed by shame and self-blame and started running away again.
Alyssa Beck: I still don’t think I completely understood the aftermath of the trafficking.
This time she was placed into foster care, and ended up stealing money from her friend’s mother.
Heather Beck: I thought, “Oh my God, not again.” …At that point, I had just had given up.
Alyssa was charged with theft, tried as a juvenile and found guilty. While she awaited her sentence, knowing she was facing up to a year behind bars, Alyssa was placed in yet another rehab facility.
Alyssa Beck: I did not want to go to jail. And I would of done anything to keep from going to jail.
And that’s when Gregory Hodge, trolling the area for girls, approached her during a walk one day.
Alyssa Beck: He was like, “Hey, what are you doing? Do you want to make some money?”
He offered her a job in what he told her was a legitimate massage business. Alyssa jumped at the chance.
Shannon Schott: Alyssa was a very broken and vulnerable person. And I think that she just wanted to believe the lies of Gregory Hodge. And she wanted to believe that he really was going to do everything he said he would, give her a place to stay, give her a job, give her power. And she didn’t want to be locked in a cage, so that was the better option.
But Hodge uploaded photos of her to Backpage.com. And she ended up right back on drugs and in the sex trafficking trap.
Lawanda Ravoira | President, Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center: People often ask, “How does a girl end up in the same situation after getting out?”
Getting lured back into the world is something trafficking expert Lawanda Ravoira sees happen to girls all the time.
Lawanda Ravoira: Alyssa began to see herself as unworthy, as “This must be where I belong. I don’t belong with regular people.”
Alyssa Beck: When people ask, “Why didn’t she leave?” And I don’t know if there’s really a right answer for it. But I do know that I physically, mentally and emotionally felt like I couldn’t leave. Even if I thought it was the right thing, I just couldn’t.
And then the beatings started.
Alyssa Beck: And I remember him slapping me and hitting me. …I remember getting up and running out of the front door — and him chasing after me
Michelle Miller: She feared for her life with him.
Shannon Schott: She did. She really did.
She managed to outrun Hodge, and in desperation, called Louis Wingard — another criminal she knew from the streets. Alyssa says she believed he would protect her.
Shannon Schott: He was more of like a father figure to her. …He was promising her, “I’m gonna get retribution for you.”
Angry and hurt, Alyssa decided to fight back. Hodge had her money and all of her belongings. So, on Aug. 30, 2011, she, Wingard and two of his associates, set out to get Hodge. They jumped him in his car. But, before Alyssa knew it, the plan spun out of control.
Alyssa Beck: Gregory Hodge was duct taped and put in the back of his trunk.
They all drove to Hodge’s home looking for money. A relative was there – watching Hodge’s 8-year-old daughter.
Alyssa Beck: [They] … had to tie her up and put her into the closet – [she pauses] …As much as I didn’t like Gregory Hodge and what he did to me, I didn’t want anyone to get hurt or feel the pain that I felt.
They grabbed some valuables and fled leaving everyone tied up. Police were tipped off.
All were eventually arrested, and this time, Alyssa was charged as an adult – facing six felonies, including kidnapping and carjacking.
Heather Beck: It was really sad. …sad because I just didn’t know when I would ever not see my daughter through glass.
When Shannon Schott learned Alyssa was in trouble again, she knew it would be an uphill battle to help her. Alyssa was caught in a cruel cycle. Schott took the case pro bono.
Shannon Schott: I knew that she was looking at life in prison. And I couldn’t imagine and still can’t imagine being 16 years old and facing life in prison.
As for Gregory Hodge, he too was arrested for his role in this whole complicated episode. He would eventually plead guilty to trafficking Alyssa.
Det. Richard Trew | Jacksonville Human Trafficking Task Force: His defense was that he just wanted girls to do massages. He didn’t know they were doing additional things.
Michelle Miller: So he was ignorant to the whole situation?
Det. Richard Trew: Claimed to be.
Michelle Miller: And the fact she was underage?
Det. Richard Trew: He also claimed he thought she was 18.
Judge Marcia Morales Howard didn’t buy Hodge’s defense. She believed he knew exactly what he was doing.
Judge Marcia Morales Howard: He explained that he needed the money. He wanted to take care of his child.
Judge Marcia Morales Howard: I was pretty horrified by the idea that in order to provide for his own young daughter he thought it was OK to sell another man’s daughter … I couldn’t accept that and I told him that. And his sentence was an effort to reflect that.
She sentenced him to 13 years in prison. Louis Wingard, who had a long list of other charges from his past, received two life sentences.
Alyssa was in an adult jail, isolated from other inmates for her own protection. Her case dragged on and on.
Shannon Schott: She hit rock bottom. She went to jail — she sat alone for a really long time.
And as she sat alone with nowhere to run, she says she had an epiphany.
Alyssa Beck: And I wanted to help people. I want to do things differently … Like the battle will be won if I just don’t give up.
Michelle Miller: That transformation, how big of a deal is that?
Det. Richard Trew: Maybe as big as I’ve ever seen.
With a renewed sense of hope, Alyssa — while in jail — got her high school degree and vowed to prevent others from following in her footsteps by giving talks to troubled kids.
Shannon Schott: Even when she was staring down life in prison, she was helping others. … And if she could believe that she had a future not behind bars, then I could believe that too.
While Shannon was still working to resolve Alyssa’s case in Florida, across the country, in California, Ashton Kutcher and his team at Thorn had a breakthrough. In 2013, they created Spotlight: a confidential software that had the potential to transform the way law enforcement finds victims.
Quietly, authorities began testing it.
Ashton Kutcher: We basically take a victim, that otherwise is just a posting online, and we turn them into a human being. And then we take that and connect them with someone that can help [becomes emotional].
In July of 2014, after three years in jail, Alyssa was released on bond. She would later plead no contest to her charges of kidnapping, carjacking and burglary. She was sentenced to time served and two years probation. She was given a second chance.
Shannon Schott: I couldn’t believe it. I was elated. It was definitely hard work, faith that paid off.
Lawanda Ravoira: When Alyssa came to us, the greatest barrier was helping her to know that she could trust us.
Alyssa was referred to the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center run by Lawanda Ravoira.
There, she finally embraced the counseling she so desperately needed.
Lawanda Ravoira: Very early on we saw her just grow so quickly in this safe environment.
Today, Alyssa works at the center as an advocacy specialist.
Alyssa Beck [speaking at a “See the Girl” event]: So today I stand in front of you as a fierce, independent, courageous and brave, as people say, advocate.
Heather Beck: She’s confident, she’s strong. …When she’s out there advocating for others, I’m very proud.
Detective Trew and his new partner, Special Agent Courtney Harrison, continue to be on the front lines.
They now use Spotlight, the software developed by Thorn. Spotlight is used by some 6,000 law enforcement agencies across the country. And it’s working.
Ashton Kutcher: At this point we’re identifying five victims a day. And our algorithms are getting better — we’re getting smarter — we’re getting the tool in more people’s hands.
On this day, undercover agents have found a girl who has been trafficked, but she is too fearful to cooperate just yet.
Special Agent Courtney Harrison | Jacksonville Human Trafficking Task Force: We just have to give her time. …She’s willing to talk. That door hasn’t shut. …It hasn’t closed so…
And just like their mentor — FBI agent Eileen Jacob — taught them, they live by one motto:
Det. Richard Trew: We never ever give up on these girls.
Alyssa says she is grateful they never gave up on her. Today, she has extra motivation to keep moving forward. After a brief relationship, she is now a mother.
Alyssa Beck: She’s my world and she depends on me. I will never let her down.
She lives with her sister and visits her parents regularly.
Alyssa Beck: And I think part of me does what I do for her because I want her to see, you know, what a strong, independent woman is. And even though I went through all the terrible things that I went through, I want her to know that you have a choice and it’s never too late to turn your life around.
In April 2018,