Human sex trafficking—in which adults and children are coerced into engaging in sexual acts for money—continues to be a problem globally, including right here in the United States. Although you may not think it’s a problem near you, statistics show that, chances are, it probably is.
In 2017 alone, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which allows people to 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 you’re dealing with a crime this awful.
That same year, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimated that one in six endangered runaways reported to them were likely sex trafficking victims. One report from the Urban Institute even estimated that the underground sex economy generates more than $50 billion a year, worldwide, including more than $290 million just in a major American city like Atlanta.
Luckily, there are people working to put a stop to human trafficking, including the non-profit group Saved in America, which is based in San Diego, California. 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 a 16-year-old California teen and her friend, both of whom went missing in January 2016. According to People magazine, the team was contacted, about three weeks after the girls’ disappearance, by the parents of one of the girls.
The Saved in America team found her just a few days later. She was still in California but had been sold into sex slavery by a man in a BMW who had offered to give them a ride to Los Angeles, according to the magazine.
The co-founder of Saved in America Joseph Travers, a chaplain and private investigator who says he was moved the 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.”
Now, through investigation, surveillance and police collaboration, Travers’s team has assisted in 60 successful child recoveries in the last three years.
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 San Diego’s own government, the FBI considers the city to be one of the 13 highest child sex trafficking areas in the United States.
“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 with the goal of rescuing 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 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 1-888-373-7888. To get in touch with Saved in America, including for volunteer opportunities, go to the group’s website.