Six weeks ago, I joined Special Operations as CEO. One of the first things I wanted to do was accompany our investigative team to experience our mission – finding and rescuing vulnerable runaway children – ideally, before they are sexually commercially exploited by a trafficker. According to the NCMEC, there has been an 800% increase in reports of suspected child sex trafficking online over the last five years.
The call from our P.I. team came in at the last minute – 4pm on a Monday afternoon. “Meet us tonight. We are surveilling a missing teenager with her 33-year old homeless “boyfriend”. We’re about to go in and get her”.
A few hours later, I found myself in an upper-middle class neighborhood in the Bay Area. The team had rescued Melanie* and were talking to her at her dad’s home. She seemed cogent and calm, at first insisting there was nothing nefarious going on. We suspected otherwise. Adolescents crave attention, and when they are not getting it from friends and family, they look elsewhere. During our discussion, we learned of their sexual relationship and his supply of drugs to her, which provided us with enough information to submit a case for prosecution.
Our investigative team spent two days looking for her that week, and once they found her, seven hours that evening getting to know her. They positioned themselves as independent from law enforcement (which we are), and social services (ditto), and that their only mission in life is to protect her and other children. To keep them safe from evil. To enable them to be free to be kids and to look forward with hope and joy to all the possibilities and opportunities that living in America affords us.
Over the last three decades, I have traveled all over the world for my work. I have visited slums in Africa and poverty-stricken villages in India and Cambodia. But when I walked away late that Monday evening, I knew this was the very first time I had personally been given a front-row seat to witness heroism in action. Investigators who put their lives on the line to find and rescue kids (and gather the evidence needed for the police to catch the bad guys) have a special place in Heaven. I want us to find more kids, and to do so we need to find the money to hire more investigators. Law enforcement can’t do it alone.
* Names and photos changed to protect minors