When most people think of human sex trafficking, they imagine the plight of a girl in some Third-World brothel far away from home.

Yet, as recent FBI data suggests, it's become more and more of an issue for children growing up right in our own backyards.

Twenty years ago, Holly Austin Smith was one such child.

 The summer of 1992 was a nightmare for Holly Austin Smith. She was 14 years old, recently graduated from eighth grade and scared to death of making the transition to high school.

"I was very, very afraid of getting beat up. I was really wrapped up in how other people were seeing me. Peer pressure, all those kinds of things," said Smith. "And I just wasn't getting a lot of positive guidance in other areas."

Growing up in South Jersey, Smith fought constantly with her parents and felt far removed from her much older half-brothers and half-sisters. As a kid, she'd been routinely sexually assaulted by an extended family member. The experience left a crippling stain on her as she matured into adolescence.

She felt alone, depressed and weighted with low self-esteem.

Like most domestic trafficking victims, this is where Smith's road to child prostitution begins -- well before the day she met her trafficker.

Primed for exploitation

When Smith's mother was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, her parents became wrapped up in the treatment and kept her in the dark about much of the proceedings.

"They thought they were doing the right thing by leaving me out of it," said Smith. "So I was left to roam the streets with my friends."

Her experiences there only added to her trouble.

One night, at age 12, she and her friends were out at a roller skating rink, where from across the room she noticed one of the high school boys from town acting as the DJ. He called her over to the booth, and once she was inside, pressured her into a sexual situation.

"I left the DJ booth thinking, 'Maybe we're dating now, like maybe I'm now in a relationship.'"

Soon realizing that wasn't the case, Smith could feel the bottom fall out.

"I felt worse and worse afterwards," she said, "like nobody wanted to date me. I felt like I was ugly."

It wasn't long before Smith suffered another sexual assault, and by eighth grade she began seriously contemplating suicide. By graduation, she was an emotional wreck — scarred by her history of abuse and left pining for an escape from reality.

In other words, the 14-year-old was perfectly primed to be exploited by a trafficker.

Mall rat

One day that summer, Smith was at the mall with her friends, dressed promiscuously, straggling behind the crowd.

Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a guy staring at her. He looked cool, well dressed, not scary at all.

He could have passed for any one of her friends' older brothers.

When he motioned for her to come over, she did, feeling kind of elated.

"Wow, somebody is paying attention to me. He's not talking to any of my friends. He's picking me out of the crowd," Smith said.

They only chatted in the crowded mall briefly. His name was Greg. They exchanged phone numbers and agreed to talk later -- all very casual.

A few days later, she found herself alone in her bedroom, divulging her secret hopes and dreams over her private phone line.

"It was an instant friendship," she remembers. "It wasn't awkward. And he just talked to me about my life."

They talked every other night. At the time, Smith was obsessed with MTV, and thought constantly of becoming a musician or a dancer.

That's where the man on the phone found his hook.

"When he told me he could get me into a dance club, that was it," said Smith. "He began to play on the vulnerabilities in my life that I wanted to get away from."

He told her she was too mature for high school, and that she should leave home to be with him.

(Smith didn't realize the man on the phone was not the guy she'd met in the mall.)

After two weeks of talking on the phone, she was ready to run away.

'Stacy Kumbas'

She met Greg at a different South Jersey mall. Smith went there thinking she was "gonna hang out with celebrities and go to famous dance clubs in famous cities across the country."

In her mind, "life was about to get really exciting."

Greg took her into a shoe store and bought her a pair of high heels. Smith remembers one of the shop clerks looking at them oddly.

No one, though, said a word.

It wasn't until they left the mall, that Smith began to sense that something was seriously wrong.

Greg seemed different, not as friendly as he did on the phone.

All of a sudden, it was as if she were caught in a whirlwind.  He took her to a motel where another woman, Nikki, was waiting.

"And she had me put on a red dress and the guy came back and he started to go over what he called, 'the rules,' and he started to say things like, 'You need to charge this much money ... you need to talk to this kind of guy, not this kind of guy."

Greg said she would now go by the name Stacey Kumbas.

"It was just, 'This is what you're doing. This is your new name.' And then a taxi was called and Nikki and I were on our way to Atlantic City."

Although nobody said it, Smith began to understand what this was all about.

Tricked again

Smith says it's hard for people to understand what was going through her mind at that time.

When she first started telling her story, she felt some sort of internal pressure to say that she was scared.

"And it's not that I didn't feel scared, it's just that I felt more sad than anything else. I felt more disappointed, like, man, I was tricked again, tricked again by a guy," she said.

"This is not what I thought it was gonna be, and it's all about sex. It's always about sex."

Feeling like she had no other options, Smith worked the streets of Atlantic City that night.

"From there, really, a light shut off for me. And in my mind, going home was not even an option. It's not even something I considered," she said. "That was gone."

36 hours in Atlantic City

Smith says she was only on the street for a moment when her first john, a much older man, approached her.

"Nikki stepped up and asked him if he wanted to date me. And he asked her how much, and she said $200. And he said OK."

Under Nikki's instruction, the man took her directly to a hotel.

"The man told me that I reminded him of his granddaughter. So I think that he was looking for a child. It wasn't a surprise and it wasn't a concern. It was what he was looking for."

After the man had his way with her, Smith worked the streets until dawn the next morning.

The next day, Greg raped her. That night, the traffickers put her right back out on the street.

Dusk to dawn, dawn to dusk, it was one numbing horror after another.

What if?

On Smith's second night working the streets, a cop spotted her, and began asking questions.

With Nikki close by, Smith stuck to the script they had her memorize for this situation: That she was 18. That he had no reason to bother her, and should leave her alone.

The script worked.

But as the cop turned to leave, Smith, trembling with fear, made the most courageous decision of her young life.

"As he was walking away I thought, if I don't say something right now -- they were planning on taking me to New York City the next day -- I just had this feeling that it would be a long time before I was found," she said.

"So I called out to the officer and I asked, 'What if I was under 18?'"

The officer immediately arrested her, locked her up and threatened her with a stint in juvenile detention.

Smith confessed her real name, and another whirlwind brought her right back to the home life she left 36 hours before.

"They handed me over to my parents wearing the same clothes my traffickers had put on me that day," Smith said. "I was sent home with no services and no understanding of what just happened to me."

Home again

Life after trafficking wasn't easy. When Smith went to high school in the fall, word got out, and she was marginalized by her classmates. She was suicidal, went from bad relationship to bad relationship and picked up a drug habit — all while bouncing around to different high schools in the region.

For Sister Terry Shields, Smith's experience is all too typical of the domestic trafficking cases that most people never think about.

"I have heard people saying, 'Are you kidding me? What are you talking about human trafficking.' They can't believe that it exists," Shields said.

Shields is the co-founder of "Dawn's Place," a nine-bedroom Philadelphia-based safe house for trafficked women. She hopes Smith's story encourages people to become more aware of emotionally vulnerable children— especially girls aged 12 to 14.

"We need to be attentive because there are some hurting people, and children especially, that nobody's picking up the cues, and maybe some of it could be averted," Shields said.

According to the Department of Justice, human trafficking is the second fastest-growing criminal industry behind drug dealing. Although truly accurate statistics are hard to come by, experts estimate that at least 100,000 American juveniles are victimized through prostitution in the U.S. each year.

For Smith, the journey to normalcy was a long one. Eventually, with help from counselors in New Jersey's school-based Youth Services program, she was able to graduate high school, and then move on to complete her undergraduate degree at Richard Stockton College.

She now lives in Virginia, is happily married and works as a biology technician in an environmental science lab.

But it wasn't until 2009 that she met another trafficking survivor and began to find the confidence to share her story. She now does so now as an official representative of Amber Alert. She travels the country speaking to law-enforcement officials about how to interact with trafficked minors.

"That kid on the corner?" she said. "I want them to understand where she's at, to understand where she's coming from."

To learn more about Holly Austin Smith, visit her website: http://hollyaustinsmith.com/

To learn more about Dawn's House, and to find out what you can do to help stop human trafficking in the Philadelphia region, visit: http://ahomefordawn.org/