FBI studies indicate that the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the largest hubs for child sex trafficking in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of children go missing each year in our country — many presumed to be victims of sex trafficking. In 2021, there were 60,346 reports of missing children in California, of which 7,186 were from the San Francisco Bay Area. While most runaways eventually do return home, what happens to them while they are missing is often unknown. By the end of 2021, 387 kids in the nine Bay Area counties remain unaccounted for.
While 2% of missing child reports are kidnappings that trigger an immediate law enforcement response, the vast majority are considered runaways, and do not qualify for the urgent Amber Alert. Worse, studies reveal that two-thirds of runaways are never even reported missing. Many of these are referred to as the ‘throwaway’ cases. Of the children who are trafficked for sex, less than 1% are ever identified as victims, or rescued.
Here, in our community, children are being used as commodities in the fastest growing, most profitable business of organized crime in the world. Unlike drugs, a child can be sold multiples times per day, over and over again. All youth are vulnerable to sex traffickers, but those who have already endured some form of trauma become especially easy prey. Unless there is clear evidence of nefarious circumstances, a child who runs away (to a groomer; or from an unhappy home situation) is typically not something law enforcement has the resources to proactively investigate. And on those occasions where perpetrators are caught, few victims will agree to testify for fear of retribution. Without the victim’s testimony, the perpetrator often remains free to traumatize and ruin the lives of other innocent boys and girls.
The Scale of The Problem
- Sex trafficking is the second largest underground industry in the U.S., following drug trafficking, generating an estimated $99 billion a year.
- Unfortunately, since many children are never reported missing, there is no reliable way to determine the total number of children who are actually missing in the U.S.
- When a child is reported missing to law enforcement, federal law requires that child be entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, also known as NCIC. According to the FBI, in 2022 there were 359,094 NCIC entries for missing children.
- Approximately 55% of these children are female and 45% are male.
- Less than 0.1% are reported as having been abducted by a stranger. Sex traffickers usually groom children into sex trafficking situations vs kidnapping them because this greatly reduces the odds the trafficker will be caught and arrested.
- Of the children reported missing to NCMEC in 2022, who had run from the care of child welfare, 18% were likely victims of child sex trafficking.
- The average age of a trafficked child is 15 years old.
- Technology has made it much easier to buy and sell children online.
- 150,000 new escort ads are posted online EVERY DAY.
- 75% of survivors reported being advertised online.
THE SPECIAL OPERATIONS SOLUTION
Our organization was born from an unmet need in our community — the need for boots-on-theground investigators to join the fight to prevent children from being exploited. Our team of private investigators and retired law enforcement officers know how to find both victims and perpetrators.
Because we are a victimcentered charitable organization — and not law enforcement — it is often easier for community members working with trauma victims to reach out to us for help.
It takes a public-private partnership between law enforcement and the community to solve this hidden crime. Once a child is recovered, we work with partners to provide direct assistance to the victims — emergency housing, financial assistance, legal help — any support they need to begin healing. When victims feel safe and are empowered to testify, traffickers go to prison.
The result is a safer community for us all.