TRENTON, N.J. - A 15-year-old New Jersey girl prostituted herself and her 7-year-old stepsister to have sex with as many as seven men and boys at a weekend party near their home in a crime-plagued neighborhood, police said.
Trenton police Capt. Joseph Juniak said Wednesday that the older girl started by taking money to have sex with several men at the party of a high-rise apartment. The teen then gave some of the money she had collected to the younger girl to let the men start touching her, Juniak said.
"It went from touching to straight out assault and rape," Juniak said. "They threatened to kill her if she screamed or told anyone."
The child later put on her clothes and left the apartment; her sister stayed. Two women found the child crying outside the apartment and walked her home.
The teen is charged with aggravated sexual assault, promoting prostitution and other crimes. Her name was not released because of her age. She was being held in a juvenile detention facility in Mercer County, but police did not know whether she had an attorney.
A spokeswoman for the county prosecutor's office, Casey DeBlasio, said prosecutors would seek to have the teen tried as an adult.
Police believe as many as a dozen people were at the party. They are trying to track down the men and boys who attended and are reviewing building surveillance videos and additional arrests are expected.
Police said the girls were outside Sunday afternoon in the neighborhood when the 15-year-old ran into two young men she knew who invited her to a party at the apartment. Rather than leave the 7-year-old behind, the teen took her along.
At the party, the 15-year-old starting having sex with several of the men for money and then gave the younger girl some cash to let a group of men touch her, Juniak said. He would not say how much money was exchanged.
The girls' parents reported them missing late Sunday afternoon. Police had just arrived at the home when the 7-year-old returned, Juniak said, and told her parents what happened.
The child was treated at a hospital, and police said child protective services is working with the family to get her psychological help.
Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer called the crime "sickening" and said it was among the worst he's seen in his 20 years as mayor.
"The police are taking this personal," the mayor said. "I know there's a place in hell for all the people that participated in this and I'm sure they will get there."
"Personally as a father with a 7-year-old daughter, I can't imagine the horror," Palmer added.
The apartment building where the assault took place, Rowan Towers, sits in the shadow of the Statehouse and is well-known to police, who are hired by the building to handle security at night from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. Last week alone they responded to a home invasion there and shots fired outside the building.
It's unclear when the girls entered the building and whether any screams or cries were heard by anyone.
Police Director Irving Bradley Jr. said police have been meeting with building management, who recently agreed to have two officers work the night shift so that one could patrol the building's floors and hallway.
Many of the apartments are vacant. The renter of the 13-floor apartment where the party was held had not been home for quite a while, and investigators were trying to find out how the partygoers got in, Juniak said.
Juniak indicated that the 15-year-old previously had contact with child services, but he declined to elaborate or discuss the family's makeup, except to say the girls "considered themselves sisters." The state Department of Children and Families declined to say whether officials had interacted with the family, citing agency policy.