On Saturday evening, August 29, 2020, I gave a virtual bilingual presentation on anti-human trafficking to Cursillo groups in several states, followed by a time for questions.
The next day, I received a call from a friend who is a physician. She had attended to my presentation and, afterward, received a call from a family in North Carolina who had also attended. Their 20-year-old daughter had run away from home a few days ago and had become a victim of sex trafficking in San Jose, California.
Their daughter left the family home following an argument with her mother and traveled to Houston, Texas. In Houston, she shared a room with a woman who connected her with an “friend” via Facebook. This “friend” promised the young woman a place to live and a job in California.
She flew to San Jose and the “friend” picked her up from the airport. He drove her to Santa Cruz to “see the trees in the desert area.” This seemed strange to the young woman, so she asked that he take her to the new home he had promised her. Instead, he took her to a rented room and forced her into bed with him. When he tried again later, she told him she needed to go to the bathroom, but her real intention was to call the police.
The young woman dialed 911 and, despite not knowing her location, seven police officers arrived within minutes. Officers entered the room and found the “friend” naked, holding a beer. The police took the man to jail and the victim to a hospital.
After collecting DNA from the young runaway, the police asked if she wanted to press charges. She initially declined, but changed her mind. The idea that he might follow her back to North Carolina was too much for her to bear. She wanted to ensure he stayed behind in California.
My friend and I developed an action plan to best help the victim. (You can get help creating a plan on the Human Trafficking Hotline website. The young woman broke down in tears upon seeing us. Still, she managed to provide explicit details of her experience. In turn, we spoke with the case manager at the police station to ensure these details were properly and thoroughly relayed.
When we finished, my friend took the young woman home and arranged a flight home for her. Meanwhile, I called the family to assure them she would be home soon.
This story, while terrible, could have been much worse. It isn’t always the case that these victims are found, the trafficker is caught, and that there is a loving family ready to welcome them home. Victims often feel shame, afraid to trust those who they thought were friends. Families struggle to understand the deep trauma that their child has experienced.
One by one, we continue to seek out those most in need and work with authorities to ensure the capture of these sick monsters who prey on our most vulnerable.
Written by Sister Catarina Chu, D.C.