My oldest is 10. I have yet to give her a cell phone or access to social media. I don’t know when this day will come. Just when I start to consider the possibility, something like this story happens and I’m ready to burn all of our devices and move my kids out to the middle of Nowheresville.
It was 2:30 am when the doorbell rang. Natasha Evans’ 13-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn, was supposed to be at a sleepover. Instead, she was standing on the front porch, two police officers and an undercover investigator by her side. It is believed that she and her 12-year-old friend had just narrowly escaped being the victims of human trafficking.
In a Facebook post that has gone viral with over 49,000 shares to date, Evans shares one of a parent’s worst nightmares, one that turned into a reality for this California mom. She writes:
Yesterday evening I dropped my daughter off at a trusted, 12 year old, friends home for a rare sleepover. We have done this before and this friend has stayed at my home as well. There was never any trouble, drama or chaos with these two, so I didn’t second guess it. But what I FAILED to think about, was WHO this friend had been talking to on social media. A 21 year old Male had been “grooming” this 12 year old girl for the last 3 months, these truths hidden in the confines of her smartphone.
Evans is no stranger to the perils and dangers that exist in the world. She is the victim of molestation and rape. Her mother was sold as a prostitute in the 1950s. She understands the importance of being real with her children and making them aware of the harsh realities they may encounter. So she never dreamed that this would happen to one of her own. But it did.
I educate my daughters on the dangers, statistics and truths of human trafficking. Last week I sat them down to watch EDEN. A movie based on a girls real life story, of being kidnapped into Human Trafficking. This subject is very dear to my heart, as my own mother, was sold into prostitution in the 50’s in San Francisco. She finally escaped when she was 17. I’m well versed on the dangers of molestation and rape, as I have personally endured this trauma and as a result, I watch my girls like a hawk. I’m as street smart as they come and I don’t sugarcoat shit. With all of these tools in my belt, we still fell through the cracks.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline there have been more than 45,308 cases reported in the past decade, typically with kids in their early teens being targeted. California is one of the top three states for activity, followed by New York and Texas.
Dr.Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco — who holds a Ph.D. in Criminology, Law and Society and is the author of ‘Hidden in Plain Sight: America’s Slaves of the New Millennium,’ a book about the realities of human trafficking — says:
Experienced human traffickers are skilled in recruiting victims through false promises, deception, faux relationships, and other forms of fraud. I’ve seen them take as long as a year or two years before they lure their victim away. It’s a long-term process.
In this case? It took 3 months.
Kaitlyn’s friend “met” the 21-year-old male on Instagram.
He spent 3 months contacting her daily, reaching out to her, and grooming a relationship with her, unbeknownst to her parents. The night of the sleepover, the two girls snuck out of the house and into the waiting car of the man and his 20-year-old friend. Evans writes:
At 9 p.m. last night, my baby girl and this friend walked out her front door, in the heart of suburbia and into a vehicle, with two men in their 20’s. My daughter questioned this girl and was nervous, but fell weak into the peer pressure of “these are my friends, we will be fine”.
Poor judgement, immaturity and thinking they are invincible, they are 7 minutes into the drive from suburbia, headed west toward the famous freeway, and the well known “Hub” of sex trafficking and number 2 ranked city in the U.S. for this lucrative crime ring…and my child had an angel watching over her.
What happens next is nothing short of a miracle.
A police officer pulled up along side the car…had a gut feeling something was off and pulled the men, holding my world in their vehicle, over. The police officer was immediately alarmed at the age discrepancy and entire scene.
He called in back-up, and the police spent 4 hours taping off and investigating the scene and questioning the 2 men and the girls. The driver was on probation, following a conviction for armed robbery. It was determined that no crime had been committed, and the men were released. However, the investigation is still ongoing. It is believed that the men have ties to human trafficking, narcotics possession and gang affiliation.
Evans’ daughter was never directly involved with the men in question. Her mother thought she had done everything she could to protect her. But she still wasn’t safe. Sure, YOUR kid would never…but what about their friends?
This is the new reality of parenting in a digital world. A world in which we need to be hyper-vigilant. We have to communicate to our kids that yes, the internet is a wonderful place, but it is also a scary one. Social media can be dangerous. We have to restrict their access. Periodically check their phones. Tell them not to accept friend requests by people they don’t know. But even this is not enough. We have to talk to the parents of our kids’ friends. It is our responsibility to find out what their policies are on internet safety and social media.
Evans ends her post with a plea:
To all of the Mothers and families of young girls and children….check, double check and triple check, their phones. Question their friends, question their parents, ask their parents to go through their phones as a prerequisite to be around your child. When kids come to your home, take the devices at the door and hold them until they leave. And NEVER second guess your gut. Holding my baby close tonight, as I go in and out of the heavy shock, I know that none of us are exempt from the possibility of violent crimes. Grab your babies, hold them tight and never let up….not for a single second.
Thankfully, this story had a happy ending. Unfortunately for so many others, it doesn’t. For more information, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888.