Desiree's family grew concerned and filed a missing person's report with the Oakland Police Department.
The girl, who stands 4 foot 11 and has an olive complexion and long, wavy dark hair, disappeared for days. Then an uncle was shocked to come across a nude picture of Desiree in the shower posted on the Craigslist Web site.
He called the telephone number listed looking for his niece. She answered and, recognizing his voice, hung up.
Desiree was among the hundreds of children under 18 advertised on the site's erotic services section. With one click on a blue link, girls called"Sexy Blonde Bombshell," "Asian Rockstar Gone Wild" and "Ebony Playmate" appear on the screen wearing thongs and lacey bras.
Technology and cell phones have given pimps greater reach and the ability to solicit pedophiles from all over the country who are willing to pay top dollar for sex with children.
Demand is great, and the profits are huge. But Desiree and many young girls who turn tricks typically don't take in any of that money.
On a busy night, Desiree who turned 15 on Saturday and is home again with her family in Oakland said she had sex with as many as four men and made $600 a night, which she turned over to her pimp.
On the streets
It was last winter when Desiree went to the mall with some high school girlfriends who, after telling her how much money they could make as prostitutes, recruited her.
"It was good money," she said in an interview last week.
Desiree agreed to share her story because she wants others to know what she experienced as a teen prostitute. She said she is not ashamed and hopes her story will raise awareness of the issue.
Desiree thought a life on the streets would be better than living at home with her mother, who spent a decade addicted to crystal meth. Desiree said she also felt comfortable around older men because when she was 12 her father forced her to touch his penis. He was later sent to prison for that convicted of lewd acts with a child and other charges.
"I think that really affected me," she said. "It made me think it was OK to serve tricks."
Experts say Desiree fits the profile of underage girls who end up turning tricks many of them have run away from unhappy home lives.
Besides advertising herself on Craigslist, Desiree said she and her friends also hunted for tricks by walking the "track" as the girls call the street any time they needed money. They looked for men who were willing to pay for sex or take them joyriding around town.
"I felt like it was my vacation away from my family and I could do my thing," she said.
She stayed with a friend's family, who Desiree said didn't know what the girls were up to.
One night in November, Desiree, dressed in fitted jeans and a tight T-shirt that read "I'm Bossy," was busted by the police who saw her soliciting sex from a man in a car.
"I was hecka scared and I never thought this would happen," she said. "I thought I should try to run, but they (the police) already had me in handcuffs."
Desiree also got caught with Ecstasy pills in her purse. She said the police told her the man had a machete in his car and could have killed her.
"It was really risky because you never know what people are up to," Desiree said.
'He kinda made me feel comfortable'
After that incident, Desiree decided she would be better off working for a 19-year-old pimp she met through her friends.
She said he helped her and gave her a place to stay.
"He kinda made me comfortable and feel like I was going to be safe and cool with him," Desiree said.
One day while she was in the shower, Desiree said her pimp took naked pictures of her to post on Craigslist. She said she worried because she didn't want her face in the pictures.
"He told me that no one would notice me," Desiree said. "He said he would make my face look blurry."
As soon as the ad was posted, the phone calls came in.
Desiree said she worked around the clock and charged johns by the minute. For 30 minutes, it cost $50 and for one hour it cost $200.
"He (her pimp) used to make me work, work, work," Desiree said. "I got the money first, then I served the trick."
Desiree said she had sex with four or five men a day and hardly got any sleep.
After one too many times of her pimp sending her on dates on an empty stomach, Desiree decided she'd had enough. In addition, she developed pelvic inflammatory disease and had to resort to giving massages to make money instead of having sex.
"My vagina was hurting and I was sitting on my knees, holding myself and crying," Desiree said. "I hated it, I was in so much pain and it made me rethink prostitution."
After a month of turning tricks on the "track" and on the Internet, Desiree asked her pimp to take her back home to her family.
He dropped her off in her East Oakland neighborhood with $40 in her hand. Desiree had become a less valuable commodity to her pimp because she was unable to serve tricks with her health conditions.
She said her pimp still owes her about $1,000, but she is not in contact with him anymore.
"I'm just going to forget about the money," she said. "It's bad money anyway."
A fresh start
When Desiree returned home in January, her relatives called the police.
Jim Saleda, an officer with the Oakland Police Department Child Exploitation Unit, said the FBI also informed them of the case and of Desiree's photos on the Internet.
"If you look at the pictures on Craigslist you can tell the girls are not of age," Saleda said. "The Internet has kicked up the level of prostitution."
Desiree said she is glad to be home, healthy and making a fresh start. She is re-enrolled in school and said she maintains a 3.25 grade point average. She also works an after-school job at a cafe.
Desiree said it's been a difficult adjustment living in her neighborhood again because many men and pimps in the area still solicit her for sex.
"It's kind of hard," she said. "I just tell them that I'm busy and I have to go to work or go to school."
Several times a week, Desiree attends Project Re-Connect and MISSEY Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth. Through the Alameda County probation department and courts, high-risk youth are referred to these programs to help transition back to their families, school and society.
"Going to the classes with a bunch of other girls made me feel like I'm not alone," she said.
Desiree said the programs also have helped her realize why she was attracted to a life of prostitution.
"I was trying to find someone that would really, like, like me or love me or something," she said. "I just wanted to be happy."
Contact Kamika Dunlap at email@example.com or 510-208-6448.