Human sex trafficking — in which adults and children are coerced, drugged and forced into engaging in sexual acts for money — continues to be a problem globally, including right here in the United States. Although you may think it’s not a problem near you, statistics show that it probably is.
In 2017 alone, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which lets people anonymously report suspected instances of this crime, saw 4,460 cases of human trafficking. That’s down from the record 7,621 cases it saw in 2016, but is obviously still a high number when dealing with a crime this awful.
That same year, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimated that one in seven endangered runaways reported to them were likely sex trafficking victims. One report from the Urban Institute that examined eight major U.S. cities estimated that the underground sex economy generates more than $290 million in a major American city, like Atlanta, and more than $50 billion a year worldwide.
Luckily, there are people working to put a stop to human trafficking, including the nonprofit Saved in America, which gathers information on missing children and trafficking victims and works with law enforcement to help rescue them. The team is made up of former law enforcement officers, Navy SEALs and other former military members.
One case taken up by Saved in America was that of 15-year-old Seraphine Bustillos, a California girl who went missing in July 2017. Members of the group, along with similar groups called Cal Advocates and Team Amber, worked with police to make sure Bustillos was found safely by Los Angeles police about three months after she went missing. According to The Coast News, Bustillos had been with an older man who had a criminal record when she was found.
People magazine also reported on the case of a 16-year-old California girl who went missing in January 2016 and was later found with the help of Saved in America members. We were unable to find more specific details on this case.
Joseph Travers — chaplain, private investigator and co-founder of Saved in America — says he was moved to start the group after hearing the story of Brittanee Drexel, who disappeared in 2009. Drexel is believed to have been kidnapped, raped and murdered.
“I knew that street gangs, prison gangs and cartels took over drug trafficking in the 1980s and then they took over sex trafficking at the turn of the century,” Travers told People. “When I read about Brittanee Drexel, who disappeared off the face of the planet, I just knew gangs were involved.”
Since the organization formed in 2014, Travers’s team has assisted in nearly 200 successful child recoveries through investigation, surveillance and police collaboration.
In a YouTube video posted to the group’s account, they say that in San Diego alone, the number of commercial exploitation victims — including teens for sex trafficking — is estimated to be between 3,400 and 8,100 per year. According to the City of San Diego, the FBI considers the city to be one of the 13 highest child sex trafficking areas in the U.S.
“The public has got to know what’s going on,” Sean Murphy, a retired San Diego police lieutenant and member of Saved in America, says in the video. “It’s happening right here in San Diego, California.”
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, California, Texas and Florida are the three states from which they see the most cases.
Parents are not charged anything for the assistance of Saved in America, as the group relies solely on funding from supporters. Their goal is to rescue a missing child before they can be exploited in the sex trafficking world.
“All we want to see is, we want to see the recovery of that child and it brought back to where its childhood is not stolen from him or her,” Master Chief Kirby Horrell, a retired Navy SEAL, says in the Saved in America video.
After reuniting a child with their parents, the group also connects the rescued child or teen with treatment and rehabilitation options.
If you or someone you know may be a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888. To get in touch with Saved in America, including for volunteer opportunities, go to the group’s website.