Below is a story from our United States based counter attacking associate team Guardian Group. Through their experiences, they’ve learned that no two survivors of human trafficking have the same story — making combating this crime that much more difficult. Read Erica’s story and learn more.

Erica

Erica grew up in a quiet rural town, known more for its rodeos and county fair than anything; a place where crime was a rarity. Her family was far from picture perfect, her dad had abused her when she was little and for that reason her mom had kicked him out. Her mom drank away the pain and struggle associated with being a single parent, barley making ends meet. They moved often, from her aunt’s house, to her grandmother’s, to their own apartment, depending on what job her mom was able to hold down at the time. The abuse and instability of her home life left Erica with a past full of demons that no one should have to deal with.

She did okay in school but didn’t have a ton of friends or an athletic bone in her body. She couldn’t quite figure out where she fit in. Erica clung to the only person that understood what life was like outside of school, her older cousin, Dani. Their moms were sisters and drinking buddies, so the two girls spent a lot of time together when they were younger, constantly dodging the advances of their mom’s latest creepy boyfriends or finding trouble of their own.

Assessment and Recruitment

During her Junior year of high school Erica found out she was pregnant. She dropped out of school to have her little baby girl, Violet, and began working at the local grocery store. Erica and Dani remained close, but their lives had started to look very different.

Dani always seemed to have it together. Her hair and nails were done, her makeup always looked great and the amount of clothes she had Erica could only wish for. Dani had a boyfriend, he was older than her and always seemed to be spoiling her. Erica was barley making ends meet, struggling to put food on the table she couldn’t even imagine buying a new shirt, let alone a new outfit.

Grooming

One afternoon, Erica was at an all time low. Her entire last paycheck had gone to pay the daycare bill and she began sobbing when she realized, once again, she wouldn’t be able to buy groceries until next week. Their cupboards were bare, their stomachs growling.

Dani stopped by to drop off some old clothes she didn’t want anymore and found Erica in a puddle of tears. Dani, like always, had a solution, Erica should come start working with her. Erica didn’t have a full understanding of what Dani did but her life seemed very glamorous! She had her suspicions about what Dani’s job was, but at this point she felt hopeless and willing to try anything.  She was in!

Dani showed Erica what to post on her Facebook page to let others know she was looking to join the “life” as Dani called it. Quickly her messenger app was flooded with guys willing to help her out. One guy grabbed her attention quickly, his name was Jason and he lived close by.

Breaking

Erica was getting closer to her 18th birthday and life had started to look up. She was head over heels in love with Jason, he was so good to her and to Violet. He had even taken her to get matching crown tattoos to prove his love to her. Dani had life figured out and now Erica felt like she did too, she couldn’t figure out why she had waited so long to listen to Dani.

The night of her 18th birthday Jason threw her a party with 20 of their friends. They all went to a local hotel, drank beer, swam in the pool and listened to music. It was perfect until her entire life got turned upside down.

Jason decided the time had come for her to start working to pay him back for everything he had given her the last few months. That night the 12 boys that were at her birthday party all raped her. She was too drunk and shocked to stop it and Dani just let it happen, like it was normal.

Trafficked

The next morning Erica realized exactly what it was that Dani did and instantly wanted out. Jason was no longer her sweet loving boyfriend, he was now acting like her demanding boss, suddenly prone to violence. He had already arranged “tricks,” as he called them, for her. He dropped her off at the local hotel and told her if she didn’t come back with $1,000 her precious baby girl would suffer.  She got out of the car and he and Violet drove away.

The entire afternoon, as the hotel door opened and closed, she tried to keep Violet in the forefront of her mind. She had to do this for her, she had to survive this for her. The days all started to run together, Jason would drop her off with a new threat of how he would hurt Violet, she would go inside and wait for the tricks to show up like clockwork.

Erica saw no way out. She had no doubt Jason would hurt Violet and probably her if she didn’t do as he said. She felt trapped, hopeless and alone.

Meanwhile on the Internet

Jason was using online escort ads to arrange tricks for Erica or “Samantha” as he called her in the ads. He would post her picture with a short descriptor of what a buyer could do with her and where they were located. These same escort ads were being monitored by veterans looking for minors. Samantha’s post snagged their attention because it was one they hadn’t seen before and she looked so young.

This group had spent their career looking at terrorist and how those networks operated. After retiring they decided to focus their skill set on the crime of trafficking here in the United States. Guardian Group was formed to provide these skills and resources to enable law enforcement to successfully rescue victims and arrest predators.

Digging further into who they thought was Samantha’s social media, the team noticed multiple indicators that further reinforced that she was being forced into the sex industry. Her relationship status on Facebook was listed as in a relationship with Jason, which caused them to think he may be involved.

They believed she was a minor and quickly notified the local police department and passed what information they had found as well as a description of Jason.

The Sting

The local detectives wasted no time contacting the number on the ad. They sent a text asking for a date with Samantha. Quickly they received a response offering a “2-girl special.” The detectives accepted the offer in hopes that they would be able to recover more than just Samantha.

When they arrived at the hotel, they noticed a guy sitting in a car in the parking lot. He looked a lot like the description they were given but he had a little girl in the backseat, which at the time didn’t make sense. One of the detectives kept an eye on him while the other proceeded to go inside.

Recovery

The detective knocked on the door… Dani opened it. Once inside he quickly let them know he was a police officer. Erica started panicking, he couldn’t be here, she knew she had to get the money to protect Violet. Once the detective was able to calm Erica down, he started asking her questions. Dani warned her not to answer. She took a few deep breaths and saw this as her only opportunity to get out. She ignored Dani and explained to him that Jason had her daughter.

The detective told his partner that the gentlemen in the parking lot was in fact Jason. He was quickly arrested, and Violet reunited with her mom. Erica sobbed as she held her daughter, feeling free for the first time.

After years of abuse and trauma Dani was too angry to speak to the cops. They let her go with nothing to hold her on. Police do not like to arrest victims but sometimes it is necessary to keep them safe from an abusive pimp. With Jason in custody she was free to go.

Become a Guardian

The crime of trafficking is flourishing with the help of the internet. Predators have the ability to reach so many more buyers online while more easily evading law enforcement. Erica didn’t have family frantically looking for her, she felt trapped because she didn’t think anyone knew what she was being forced to do.

Without eyes on this crime daily she would have easily fallen through the cracks. By becoming a monthly supporter of Guardian Group, you help create a set of eyes scouring the internet looking for victims just like Erica. A set of eyes with years of training to find publicly available information that is helpful to law enforcement in the recovery of victims and the prosecution of predators just like Jason.