Theresa said she was desperate.
"I was so hesitant at first because it's just not the type of person I am," she said. Theresa was a young single mom, emotionally vulnerable and financially in crisis when a close friend started suggesting prostitution as a way out.
Theresa is not her real name. In order to protect her identity, NBC 7 is calling her “Theresa” as she explains how she was lured into the sex trade by another woman.
According to San Diego officials, the situation is more common than you'd expect.
Theresa said her friend told her she had experience in the business and the promise of financial independence won out.
“I felt like if I didn't, I was giving up the opportunity to even try to provide the right way for my daughter," she said.
According to Theresa, her trusted friend made the arrangements, finding customers online and setting up meetings at local hotels. She says it was a lucrative game of manipulation and prostitution. The female friend expected to be paid half of Theresa’s earnings.
Marisa Ugarte, Founder and Executive Director of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition (BSCC), said Theresa’s situation is not uncommon.
"We have seen it more often,” she said. “It's happening in schools too with best friends. Sometimes there is a pimp involved and sometimes they are the pimps."
BSCC’s mission is to preserve the dignity of trafficked and commercially exploited people. The organization has been helping people for two decades.
San Diego Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan says a 2016 study about sex trafficking in San Diego County found the use of female recruiters is one of the top three methods used to lure new victims.
Theresa said her friend knew what she wanted to hear and was able to manipulate her. She said eventually, the woman she thought was her friend, controlled her and the illicit lifestyle quickly took its toll.
"I felt dirty,” Theresa said. “I could take a shower five, 10 times a day and I wasn't me. I didn't feel like it was me in my own skin anymore.”
Ugarte said it's happening in all parts of San Diego County.
"Don't think that just because you come from a middle-class family or a higher class family it can't happen to you,” Ugarte said. “I got news for you. It happens everywhere."
After nearly a year of being sex trafficked, Theresa said she was able to break free from the woman who was pimping her. Theresa has now strengthened her resolve to turn her life around and said she is determined not to let her past define her future. She’s hopeful sharing her story will increase awareness about this dangerous situation.
“I look at it as, you know what, I'm still here and there's a reason why I'm still here and I have to keep moving forward," she said.
Ugarte said it's critical for parents to be present in their child's life and get to know who their child's best friends are. For information on how to get help for yourself or a suspected victim of human trafficking or to learn more about sex trafficking in San Diego click here.