AUSTIN, Texas -- Family members say a Houston girl was lured into the sex trade by predators on Facebook. Now, the child's aunt in Austin is sharing her story.
Crystal Whalon and her family never thought Facebook would turn dangerous for the 12-year-old victim and her friends.
"She's young. She's experimenting. She didn't know anything like this would happen," said Whalon.
Whalon says about a month ago, her niece, who lives in Houston, started chatting online with strangers. The predators invited the 12-year-old to a show. Her parents told her "No," but she went anyway. That's when Crystal says the unthinkable happened.
"They brought her to an undisclosed location and basically forced her into prostitution," said Whalon.
The girl was missing for 48 hours. Whalon says they were able to track her down thanks to the
GPS on the girl's cell phone. They say it saved her life.
"I had no clue this was even going on in Central Texas. I thought it was a third-world country situation," Whalon said.
Austin Police Department Detective Joel Pridgeon says child predator crimes are on the rise. He's seen children as young as 8 years old sending nude text messages and pictures via the Internet.
"The biggest misperception is a certain kind of child is at risk for this type of behavior. That couldn't be further from the truth. All children are at risk of this," said Pridgeon.
The investigation into Whalon's case is ongoing. It's sensitive, involving other children. Two of them are in protective custody, including Whalon's niece. So far, no arrests have been made.
She advises other families to stay engaged.
"Stay close to your youth. Don't think this couldn't happen to your child," she said.