A vulnerable teenage girl has been returned to her family after going missing for two months.
The 15-year-old girl had been “preyed upon” via a messaging app, by a man in his 20s who had shown a romantic interest in her.
The man convinced his victim to leave her family in Tennessee and to move into his apartment, where he sexually abused her.
Ashley’s* mother contacted global anti-trafficking non-profit Hope for Justice to ask for their help to find and rescue her.
Ashley was found at a shopping centre earlier this month, and has since been reunited with her mother. She is now receiving counselling, and Hope for Justice’s US team will be carrying out follow-up sessions with the family.
Richard Schoeberl, US team leader for Hope for Justice, said: “Missing teenagers are among those at the highest risk of human trafficking.
“When they leave home, they have no food, no money, no clothing, and they resort to ‘survival sex’; they sell their bodies so they can eat or have a place to stay. But this dangerous pathway can lead to even graver situations.
“A major part of our work is around prevention. While we are committed to rescuing these victims, our ultimate aim is to stop this exploitation from happening in the first place. That is why we help to train people about modern slavery in all its forms, and equip people so they can look out for the warning signs.”
During the two months that Ashley was missing, she drifted between homeless shelters until she was “lured” into the home of a man she had never met. The pair had met via the social media platform Snapchat.
She was manipulated psychologically and sexually abused.
Between 19 and 40 per cent of homeless young people have been trafficked, according to the National Network for Youth.
Richard said: “Knowing the vulnerability of young people, traffickers take advantage by preying on them on the streets, or online, and often in homeless shelters where youths think they are safe.
“This particular investigation was coordinated alongside the Wilson County Sherriff’s Office.
“We identified and interviewed friends of the missing teenager, gathered and monitored information and used surveillance to locate her. We were so thankful when we found her, and we are delighted that this victim has been safely returned to her family.”
*Name and image changed to protect identity of victim