Most of the young girls being trafficked for sex in New Zealand are from lower socio-economic families but their clients are often not, a sex trafficking researcher says.
1 NEWS has revealed children, one said to be as young as nine, are being pedalled for financial gain and forced into the sex trade in this country.
Natalie Thorburn, a Wellington researcher completing her Ph.D., described it as "adults setting kids up to be repeatedly raped and making money from it".
Selling sex with underage girls only works if there is a market, she said.
According to Ms Thorburn most of the girls being trafficked are from lower socio-economic families, but their clients are often from other backgrounds.
"A lot of the clients seemed to be white collar businessmen as opposed to patch gang members or their affiliates," she said.
Ms Thorburn has spoken to dozens of young Kiwi women forced into prostitution, and said their stories were "excruciating to listen to".
They described the horrors of sex slavery in ordinary houses in suburbs.
"They were exploited beginning ages sort of 12 to 13," she said.
Even more frightening are the people peddling these girls for financial gain.
"For some of them it was their parents who were selling them for drugs. For most of them it was a boyfriend figure, often gang-connected, who would pose as being the love interest and force them to sell sex."
Long time counsellor Tania Blomfield says she has seen worse - one little girl forced to have sex with strangers from the age of nine.
"Her mum used to get men in after school and would tie her to the bed and let the men go and do their thing in her mother's bedroom. And then from age 11 onwards she got her working in a brothel," Ms Blomfield said.
Putting a figure on how many young girls are being trafficked is difficult but both women say what they've seen is only the tip of the iceberg.
"I think it's a growth industry, sadly. I think it's getting worse and worse because we are not dealing with it," Ms Blomfield said
The Ministry for Vulnerable children says it works closely with the police and other agencies in response to underage sex workers.
But Ms Thorburn believes, as bad as it is, that young girls choose to work in the sex industry and says there's not enough focus on those forced to sell their bodies.
"New Zealand is repeatedly refusing to see it or to to label it or acknowledge it for what it actually is, which is trafficking," she said.
But in what's believed to be one of the first prosecutions of its type in the country, an Auckland couple are awaiting trial on charges including dealing a person under 18 for sex and forced labour, and receiving the earnings from those sexual services.