At first glance I hardly noticed her. Nothing was distinguishing about the girl. Perhaps 16-17 years old she simply looked plain and simple in appearance and attire. Instinct told me to observe for a moment, something wasn’t right. Instead of moving toward the bus, she stayed back along the fringe of people waiting. Someone asked the time as he pointed toward her wrist. She turned away, head down. I realized how obvious this situation was as one observation led to another.
It wasn’t long until it became clear she was waiting for something else, not the bus. As I looked closer her clothes were not tattered nor was she unkempt. What bothered me was that unlike most girls that age she wore no makeup, no jewelry, nothing to identify her. She carried no purse, no bookbag or backpack, she simply folded her arms in a protective or concealing way. As I approached and spoke she was clearly scared and constantly scanning the cars approaching the intersection. Again she was clearly waiting for someone.
I identified myself as a police officer and encouraged her not to be afraid, however, I needed to ask a few questions. I called for a female unit to assist in hopes she would be more comfortable. After calming and reassuring “Mari” we discovered she had no identification, did not know her address, or even what neighborhood she lived in. Not a single coin or folded bill in her possession. Finally, Mari offered that she had been working and missed her ride.
To cut to the chase, we learned Mari was previously living in a homeless shelter when she was offered work and housing by a nice woman she had seen helping others at the shelter. Mari and two other girls had been taken in approximately two months earlier but she had lost sense of any specific time. Mari described the single room several girls were sharing. All of her identification and few possessions were taken. She recited the rules she was given and explained how scared she was of the man and woman in charge of the “apartment”. The girls were emotionally abused and physically threatened. All were told they would receive their identification and possessions once housing debts were paid and they were relocated. Mari felt her only chance was to cooperate and accept the labor tasks as assigned.
There is much more to this story however this clearly was a case of a young woman being held captive, enslaved, and waiting to be trafficked elsewhere. This is one example of human trafficking targeting homeless and vulnerable young women and teenage girls. This situation may have been resolved however these investigations are far-reaching and seemingly never-ending. Any suspicious activity such as described should be reported to the Department of Homeland Security and the “Blue Campaign” for immediate response and investigation.
Please take the time to learn how human trafficking operates and warning signs to look for. Resources are available through several federal and local agencies including the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, US Immigration and Customs (ICE), local Police Departments, and Victim’s Assistance offices.
Utilize these “Trafficking Indicator Resources”, and if ever in doubt contact: National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH), 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733)
Doug Cox can be found at https://twitter.com/Doug200C