Monica Almeida/The New York Times
Nicole Clark, 17, above, at her onetime sleeping spot.
ASHLAND, OREGON - She ran away from her group home in Medford, Ore., and spent weeks sleeping in parks and under bridges. Finally, Nicole Clark, 14 years old, grew so desperate that she accepted a young man's offer of a place to stay. The price would come later.
They had sex, and he soon became her boyfriend. Then one day he threatened to kick her out if she did not have sex with several of his friends in exchange for money.
She agreed, fearing she had no choice. "Where was I going to go?" said Nicole, now 17 and living here, just down the Interstate from Medford. That first exchange of money for sex led to a downward spiral of prostitution that lasted for 14 months, until she escaped last year from a pimp who she said often locked her in his garage apartment for months.
"I didn't know the town, and the police would just send me back to the group home," Nicole said, explaining why she did not cut off the relationship once her first boyfriend became a pimp and why she did not flee prostitution when she had the chance. "I'd also fallen for the guy. I felt trapped in a way I can't really explain."
Most of the estimated 1.6 million children who run away each year return home within a week. But for those who do not, the desperate struggle to survive often means selling their bodies...
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