Carissa Phelps
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Carissa Phelps

San Luis Obispo, California, United States

San Luis Obispo, California, United States
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The best kept secret in music

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Carissa was one of the best speakers I've seen on campus in my 4 years here at Davidson. She was so engaged with our students in the pre-show dinner and really touched the folks in attendance at the speech (full room!).
She has an amazing presense and perspective. I can't say enough about the wonderful work she's doing and thank her for sharing her story with our community. We'd love to have her back! - Testimonial


FRESNO — On a chilly winter evening in the Central Valley, the agricultural heart of California, Carissa Phelps is driving down a street known as Motel Drive, tucked between a park and railroad tracks in the shadow of Highway 99.
A few women — some looking more like teens — stand on street corners, eyeing potential customers, preparing for the night ahead. Not much has changed since Phelps stood on these very same corners 19 years ago, a girl with nowhere to go but the streets.
Phelps looks at the run-down, faded buildings and points to a tall turquoise sign with white and yellow lettering. The Villa Motel.
She was 12, hungry and alone when a man three times her age picked her up, bought her a hot dog and Pepsi, then brought her here.
It was the beginning of a life she never thought she'd survive.
But now she is 31, a law and business school graduate of the University of California-Los Angeles, a star in an upcoming documentary about her life and a spokeswoman for teenagers forced to turn to prostitution when they have no other way to survive.
She is a fundraiser who rubs elbows with California's business and political elite, and she is a neighborhood organizer who is just as comfortable with people living on the margins.
She's a "meteor," who has a passion not just to change this neighborhood but to create a blueprint to transform dangerous, marginal neighborhoods into places of light, culture and safety, says local investor Lee Ayers.
"People get on and off the freeway and get what they want," Phelps says. "Nobody understands about the lives of people here. They don't realize there are kids out there."
Children being forced into prostitution is "America's dirty little secret," says Lois Lee, founder of Children of the Night, a Los Angeles non-profit that houses and counsels children who want to get off the streets.
Phelps wants to put the spotlight on prostituted children (calling them "child prostitutes" puts the blame on the wrong person, she says) by sharing her story, which is decidedly unglamorous and all too common: a story of a girl from a broken home with no place to go.
How it all began
For Phelps, life in the streets began when her mother dropped her off at Fresno County Juvenile Hall 70 miles from their Coalinga home.
Sharol Macleod, Phelps' mother, says she doesn't remember much from that time; the incident is a "blur." But she does remember feeling helpless. Her daughter was repeatedly running away from home and seemed out of control.
"I was just desperate for her to be somewhere safe and not to run away anymore," Macleod says in a quiet voice over the phone.
Phelps remembers her childhood rebelliousness, a product, she says, of a dysfunctional family. But "I'm 12 years old. I can't be that bad at 12 years old. I had no criminal record — a common girl."
The county couldn't take her; she had broken no law. It couldn't turn her away, either. Phelps slept in the lobby for three days until she was taken to a group home. She disliked it instantly and ran away.
This was a pattern she repeated over the next few years, running from group homes, hanging out, sometimes babysitting, eventually turning to the streets.
For Phelps and many others, prostitution "wasn't Heidi Fleiss," Lee says. "She wasn't some attractive, sexy call girl. She wasn't having sex with movie stars."
When she ran away, she fell into the same trap as many young girls: "men who befriended her, forced her to have sex with other adult men and took money from her," Lee says. "She is the face and the voice of kids who have been forced into prostitution."
No one has accurate statistics on how many children turn to prostitution for survival, largely because street kids remain hidden. Some estimates range from 100,000 to 300,000 in the USA. But even those numbers are unreliable, says David Finkelhor of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.
The numbers are higher than most people realize, says Ernie Allen of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
"The only way not to find this in any American city is simply not to look for it," Allen says. "This is not a problem that only happens in New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco. This happens in smaller communities."
What makes Phelps' story worthy of a documentary, now in its final stages, was not just that she survived but that she thrived, says filmmaker David Sauvage, who met Phelps in business school.
When he began making Carissa, he just wanted to make a great debut as a filmmaker.
"I wasn't thinking that much about the social implications of it," he says. "But over the course of making it, I saw that there really is a pretty powerful need for a story about a girl who made it out of that situation into a much better one."
In addition to her new life as a community organizer, Phelps also is a newlywed. On Feb. 21, she married her best friend from 15 years ago, Cole Clement, and has an 8-year-old s - USA Today, Feb. 27, 2008, Janet Kornblum


Carissa Phelps was only 12 years old when she ran away from the Fresno County group home where her mother had left her. Hungry and alone, the runaway was befriended by a man three times her age. And the price of a hot dog and Pepsi was all it cost the man to get her to a seedy motel.
Carissa soon found herself drawn into the world of child prostitution. It begins with men who first befriend lost girls like Carissa, then force them to have sex with other adult men and take whatever money they earn. Twenty years later, Carissa has managed to escape the desperate "survival sex" lifestyle that has become a dead-end road for many young people.
Others, however, are not so fortunate. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, child prostitution has become a problem of epidemic proportions, with estimates ranging between 300,000 and 800,000 (five million or more are prostituted globally). Those figures are likely even higher when one considers how many street kids -- runaways, thrown-aways and cast-offs from the foster care system -- remain unaccounted for in America. Left to fend for themselves, these young girls and boys quickly become prey for small-time pimps and organized sex-trafficking rings.
Amazingly, many children are introduced to prostitution by family members or acquaintances such as parents, older siblings or boyfriends. The internet, especially websites such as Craigslist, Facebook and MySpace, has made it even easier to prey on children without being easily detected by law enforcement.
Child prostitution is America's "dirty little secret," one that cuts across racial and socio-economic divides. As Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin observed, "It's one of those issues that doesn't get discussed and therefore there's an assumption that perhaps either it doesn't exist at all or the young women and girls who are prostitutes are there by their own free will." Yet there is little to suggest that these children ever willingly choose such a lifestyle. Even the term "child prostitute" is something of a misnomer, suggesting that it is the child -- and not the adult handler -- who has opted to sell him or herself for sex.
Children who are sold for sex (the majority are female) typically range in age from 11 to 17, with some as young as 9 years old. Once they have been lured or forced into prostituting themselves, these children are subjected to a full range of injuries, diseases, pregnancies, mental issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression and drug addiction, not to mention criminal and delinquency charges if they are caught. For those who are "rescued" out of the system, the stigma of having once been part of the sex trade is hard to overcome.
Yet while most people are barely aware of the sex trafficking industry, it infects suburbs, cities and towns across the nation. "This is not a problem that only happens in New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco," stated Ernie Allen of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "This happens in smaller communities. The only way not to find this in any American city is simply not to look for it."
Unfortunately, Americans have become good at turning away from things that make us uncomfortable or stray too far from our picture-perfect images of ourselves. Yet the harsh reality is that this epidemic is largely one of our own making. Simply put, we have failed to prioritize or protect our young people, leaving them to fend for themselves.
There are a multitude of factors that have contributed to the explosive growth of child prostitution in recent years. These range from the rampant availability of porn over the internet and the unabashed peddling of sex by advertisers and the entertainment industry to a complete lack of role models for young people and a failure by religious organizations to engage or impact them in any meaningful way.
Yet it is the family -- and its breakdown over the past 40 years -- that has had the greatest impact on young people today. The rise of single-parent homes, the drop in marriage rates and soaring divorce rates are a testament to this breakdown. Just consider the family background of a child who has fallen into prostitution: typically, it includes an absentee parent, marital separation, domestic violence, substance abuse, prostitution activities within the family and neighborhood influence.
Sadly, while we as a society have failed to adequately register the importance of family on our children, those who prey on young people understand it all too well. According to a study conducted through the University of Pennsylvania, 75% of known child prostitutes work for pimps, who are adept at creating a pseudo-family environment by promising money, love and affection to children coming from dysfunctional homes who are seeking care and nourishment. These sexual predators then strip these children of whatever money they make and severely abuse them in order to establish a relationship of dependency.
So w - The Huffington Post, July 29, 2008, John W. Whitehead


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

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Bio

Before she was an attorney, author and advocate, Carissa Phelps first became a survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking. Carissa understands the challenges children face after being neglected and sexually exploited because she lived them firsthand.
Although Carissa stopped attending school at the age of 12, she ultimately spent over a decade furthering her education. Her credentials include a BA in mathematics summa cum laude from Fresno State, a Juris Doctorate from UCLA School of Law, and an MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management. In 2010, she was named one of the top 100 inspirational graduates at UCLA Anderson, in a ceremony marking the school’s 75th anniversary.
Carissa’s personal accomplishments, as well as her faith, have given her the courage to expose and respond to domestic minor sex trafficking in the United States. Together with partners around the world, she is part of a global network to connect resources and assist local and international survivors in rebuilding their lives. Carissa mentors young survivors who have experienced sexual exploitation. In addition, she is building a searchable database to connect survivors and their mentors to resources around the world. Her mission is to assist those who wish to prevent and respond to child trafficking.
In 2008, Carissa’s amazing juvy-to-justice story was told in an award winning documentary. Her voice continues to inspire in various films including the journalist project Sex and Money, A National Search for Human Worth. Carissa’s passion has been shared with thousands at conferences, small meeting rooms, and coalitions to end trafficking. While her story inspires and brings hope to a movement that can appear to be frustrating and without a solution, her command of resources, networks, business, and the law supports local efforts to protect and care for children in their community. Her memoir, Escaping Life on the Streets One Helping Hand at a Time, is due out in July 2012.
Carissa currently lives in California and practices employment law.