“When we look at human trafficking, we always think that it’s far away from us,” – Du Yun
In nearly every civilization around the globe, human trafficking prevails, and contrary to what many people believe, the United States is not excluded from the horrifying reality. Every year around the world, millions of women, men, and children are kidnapped, deceived, coerced or lured away from their homes into some form of forced labor or sexual exploitation, a modern-day form of slavery . In many countries, people are trafficked for the purpose of occult rituals and medical exploration.
In the United States, there are several federal agencies working round-the-clock to combat human trafficking, most of which are under a parent body named the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PITF), a cabinet-level committee which controls the activities of several other agencies and departments across the country battling human trafficking. Also, there are other governmental and non-governmental agencies not under the control of the PITF but still serving the cause. These agencies work hand-in-hand to keep the vice under the rug, but they can only do so much. A trafficker could be someone a person trusts completely and would willingly follow to the ends of the earth. A person could desperately be in great distress and only a trafficker would come to them in the guise of a helper. These agencies give the best they can to rescue all victims, but they, unfortunately, can’t prevent every situation.
In 2016, the U.S National Human Trafficking Hotline received 7,621 reports of human trafficking. 6,244 cases were reported in 2017. The numbers are maddening because these are people with families and loved ones who may never find closure until the victims are found. The most vulnerable are children and young adults. About 50 percent of all trafficking victims end up as sex slaves. It’s a reality that’s barely imaginable .
Mission: Child saved not sold
There are still people out there in the world who would give up their golden years of vacationing and relaxation to fight relentlessly in the battle to curb human trafficking. Saved in America (SIAM) is a non-profit volunteer organization made up of retired Navy SEALs turned private investigators, police detectives, police officers and other veteran law enforcement agents who are lending their skills to the fight.
At no charge to families, the San Diego based group has assisted the law enforcement in rescuing 208 missing children since 2014, 60% of whom were trafficked or taken against their will. The organization was founded by Joseph Travers, a retired police commissioner and licensed investigator from California. He was inspired to join the fight following the disappearance of Brittanee Drexel in 2009. The 17-year-old had gone on a Spring Break trip at Bar Harbor Hotel in South Carolina without her mother’s knowledge or permission. She reportedly went to another hotel to see a friend, and for the past ten years, Brittanee has not been seen. A 2016 report to the FBI from a prison inmate accused a gang of raping, shooting, and feeding Brittanee to alligators (although her remains were never found), but there was no concrete evidence to make a conviction .
“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 The Magazine. “When I read about Brittanee Drexel, who disappeared off the face of the planet, I just knew gangs were involved.”
The veteran further explains that families whose children are taken would usually find themselves at crossroads where they wouldn’t know which direction to take. As a way to aid government agencies and find missing children faster, SIAM helps in strategizing, investigating, and rescuing the victims to the best of their abilities. SIAM also connects the rescued victims to support groups and rehabilitation centers to help them cope with the trauma.
Sold into sexual slavery
As of 2016, SIAM has worked about 58 cases of trafficking in children, all of which were successful rescues. One of the cases that year was of a 16-year-old girl who rode her bike to her friend’s house but wasn’t seen or heard from for three weeks. Her parents were beside themselves with one of the most torturous kinds of worry.
“We knew the police were treating her like a runaway and they just weren’t doing much,” Maureen, the girl’s mother said to People . “We were trying to do all we could ourselves, but it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. You could go broke hiring people to help you and still not find anything.”
Three weeks after the girl was taken and less than a week after SIAM was contacted, she was found in Compton, California. She happened to take a ride from an unknown man in a car and was subsequently sold into a sex slavery ring.
SIAM is an invaluable organization
Law enforcement agencies around the country are thankful for the help rendered by SIAM, praising the group for their high-tech powered investigations and numerous successful rescues.
“They can be very helpful because victims sometimes don’t trust the police,” said San Diego County Chief Deputy District Attorney, Summer Stephan to VICE News . “You know, a private investigator doesn’t have the police powers, and so as long as they abide by their ethical duties of staying in their lane and operating and providing information to police, then we welcome them.”
The group is funded by well-meaning individuals and organizations who are appreciative of the amazing work they’ve volunteered to do. According to Joseph Travers, it is funding from these sources, one of which is the William D. Lynch Foundation that enables them to carry out their duties effectively. These sources also funded the recruitment, training, and licensing of his team of volunteers.
“People don’t realize this is going on in their own backyards. This isn’t in some faraway country with very poor people,” said Joshua Travers to People. He is Joseph’s son and a former U.S Marine who now serves as SIAM’s Chief of Case Management. “This could be your next-door neighbor, your child, anyone’s child. A lot of these kids are from a middle-class family in the United States. They aren’t incredibly poor or involved in abuse or bad situations [at home].”
More grease to SIAM’s elbow. People like these men are the reason why the world hasn’t crumbled to pieces yet, but according to Joseph Travers, “The greatest thing that could happen is if Saved in America didn’t have to exist.”
Trafficking is real and it happens to PEOPLE – the rich, the poor, the middle-class, the powerful, and the homeless. We need to do our best to spread the word and support initiatives like these. If you would like to volunteer or donate check out their webpage, SavedInAmerica.org, for more details.
- Admin. What is human trafficking? Anti-Slavery. https://www.antislavery.org/slavery-today/human-trafficking/. Retrieved 10-07-19
- Brinlee, Morgan. 13 Sex Trafficking Statistics That Put The Worldwide Problem Into Perspective. Bustle. https://www.bustle.com/p/13-sex-trafficking-statistics-that-put-the-worldwide-problem-into-perspective-9930150. Retrieved 10-07-19
- Editor. Brittanee Drexel, teen who vanished in 2009, was raped, shot, eaten by alligators, FBI says. Fox News. https://www.foxnews.com/us/brittanee-drexel-teen-who-vanished-in-2009-was-raped-shot-eaten-by-alligators-fbi-says. Retrieved 10-07-19
- Dunham, Nancy. U.S. Navy Seals and Retired Police Join Forces to Rescue Human Trafficking Teen Victims. People. https://people.com/human-interest/u-s-navy-seals-retired-police-rescue-human-trafficking-teen-victims/. Retrieved 10-07-19
- Hylton, Antonia. Ex–Navy SEALs are rescuing children from sex trafficking. Vice News. https://news.vice.com/en_us/article/evak5w/ex-navy-seals-are-rescuing-children-from-sex-trafficking. Retrieved 10-07-19
- Department. The President’s Interagency Task Force. U.S Department of State. https://www.state.gov/the-presidents-interagency-task-force/. Retrieved 10-07-19
- Saved in America. Official website. https://www.savedinamerica.org/. Retrieved 10-07-19
- Lynch Foundation for Children. Official website. https://www.lynchfoundationforchildren.org/. Retrieved 10-07-19