HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kristen DiAngelo of California says she's been in the sex trade for four decades.
She started in the 1970s, when she was just 15.
"I got this job thinking I was going to give massages and I found out very quickly that if I did other things I could get an apartment, I can get a car and live like other people and that's what I wanted to do," she said.
She says she did it to survive. But at 17, her life was taken over by a pimp.
"If you don't make that money you get beat, you get hurt, you get raped, you get whatever they feel like doing to you," said DiAngela.
After 10 years under three different pimps and a beating that almost killed her, she decided life had to change.
Now, she runs Sex Workers Outreach Project, which tries to make sex work safer in Sacramento and around the world.
"The worker is criminalized so it doesn't matter if someone is exploiting you. It doesn't matter what's going on with you, you have no voice because the second you say something you are admitting to a crime," said DiAngelo.
Recently, the federal government seized BackPage.com, which had become a marketplace for sex. DiAngelo says several other websites were also shut down and she believes the enforcement action meant to stop trafficking is actually hurting sex workers.
"I have met workers who are now working street corners because there is no place to go. I met workers are are actually contacting pimps because they can't pay their bills," she said.
DiAngelo is in Hawaii for several speaking engagements. She'll speak Tuesday at the Hawaii State Capitol room 016 at 1 p.m. She's also speaking Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the First Unitarian Church at 2500 Pali Highway.
Both engagements are sponsored by Harm Reduction Hawaii.