J.S. was an honor student who played the violin and ran on her high school’s track team. But in the spring of 2010, her free-spirited nature began to assert itself and she wanted more.
Living in the Seattle suburbs, the 15-year-old decided to run away to the city. She quickly met a man twice her age who seduced her with gifts and a place to stay.
It didn’t take long for her to trust him. And it didn’t take long for the 32-year-old man to abuse that trust — and J.S. He beat and raped her and posted explicit photos of her in an ad on Backpage.com, forcing her to have sex for money.
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“All the people that responded to the Backpage ad of this ninth-grade girl would come over and engage in what is essentially child rape,” says Erik Bauer, a Washington-based attorney representing J.S. in her lawsuit against Backpage.com. “It was a horrific situation.”
The legal battle between Backpage.com, J.S. — and other girls like her who were forced into the multimillion-dollar sex trafficking industry — are the focus of the documentary I Am Jane Doe, which debuts in theaters Feb. 10.
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J.S.’s story is not uncommon. She was forced to meet with men in hotel rooms around the clock. She was raped repeatedly for months.
“At one point, I finally accepted this was my fate and this was what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life,” says J.S., now 22, who agreed to speak with PEOPLE as long as her name wasn’t used. “I just kind of gave up.”
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Fortunately for her, J.S.’s family never gave up looking for her. In a police sting operation, she was rescued from her nightmare. J.S.’s pimp was convicted of promoting commercial sex abuse of a minor, third-degree child rape and second-degree assault. He was sentenced to 26 years in prison.
But she was still only a child, and she struggled to regain a sense of normalcy after what she had been through.
“I was scared,” she recalled. “I didn’t know if I was going to be in trouble or if my parents were going to be mad.”