A missing and endangered 14-year-old girl who ran away from home and was picked up off the streets by a much older man is now safe after being recovered by Hope for Justice.
After her mom contacted us when her daughter first went missing, our investigators quickly established that there were many different reasons to believe she was at high risk of being trafficked. They coordinated with volunteers from among the girl’s family and friends to launch a search party, putting up ‘missing’ posters, canvassing the neighborhood and homeless camps, and reviewing footage from home security cameras and surveillance cameras nearby.
Hope for Justice investigators interviewed more of her friends and relatives to get the facts, and scoured online sources to track her down.
After several days of surveillance and research, someone who had seen one of the missing persons posters called their sheriff’s office and said they had information. Separately, Hope for Justice received information about a Facebook message that had also been sent and, together with police, recovered the teen and brought her home.
Hope for Justice established the key facts about who picked her up off the streets and why, and learned of other potential victims linked to the case. A police department with which we often work closely has now opened an official human trafficking investigation, based on this intelligence. We cannot share more information publicly while the investigation continues and for the protection of the 14-year-old girl.
We are continuing to support the family.
Why does Hope for Justice prioritize finding missing teenagers?
Evidence and studies show that teens who run away from home are at particularly high risk of being targeted for trafficking. The criminals exploit vulnerabilities and create dependency to control their victims, and runaway teens often have multiple vulnerabilities at once, which might include difficult home environments, alcohol or drug problems, and lack of money or safe shelter. A sample of the academic and expert studies on this issue:
- 36% of runaways in one study had traded sex for a place to stay, or another need. Source: National Clearinghouse on Homeless Youth and Families
- 19% of runaway and homeless youth across the U.S. experience sex trafficking, labor trafficking or both. Source: Study by Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice & Research, and the Loyola University Modern Slavery Research Project
- Running from foster care is the most common pathway to sex trafficking victimization. Source: Latzman, N. E., & Gibbs, D. (2020). Examining the link: Foster care runaway episodes and human trafficking. OPRE Report No. 2020-143. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- 1 in 6 of the more than 25,000 cases of children reported missing to National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in 2021 who had run away were likely victims of child sex trafficking. Source: NCMEC
- 35.8% of runaway and homeless youth report a history of sex trafficking, especially LGBTQ youth (45% reporting this, compared to 28% of heterosexual youth). Source: Roe-Sepowitz, D., Brockie, M. and Bracy, K. (2015). Youth Experiences Survey: Exploring the Sex Trafficking Experiences of Homeless Young Adults in Arizona, Year 2
- Within the first 48 hours of being on the street, 1 in 3 runaway or homeless children are lured into prostitution. Source: National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children/NISMART-2
Other studies with similar findings:
Reid, J. A., Baglivio, M. T., Piquero, A. R., Greenwald, M. A., & Epps, N. (2019). No youth left behind to human trafficking: Exploring profiles of risk. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 89(6), 704–715.
Greeson, J. K. P., Treglia, D., Wolfe, D. S., & Wasch, S. (2019). Prevalence and Correlates of Sex Trafficking among Homeless and Runaway Youths Presenting for Shelter Services. Social Work Research, 43(2), 91–100