In recent weeks, U.S. marshals have recovered 72 survivors of sex trafficking in Indiana, Ohio, and Georgia during “Operation Homecoming” in tandem with a string of similar operations occurring throughout the United States. The operation concludes within children from a wide age range being rescued from dangerous criminals who intend to traffic these children with intent to exploit throughout the United States and the globe. Of those children, eight were recovered in Indiana, leaving many with questions regarding sex trafficking in the Midwest.
Because cases of sex trafficking are not often reported on in extensive detail, social justice warriors have taken to creating hashtags to spread awareness. Among these is the hashtag #SaveOurChildren which seeks to bring awareness to sex trafficking and the pervasive cloak of criminal conspiracy under which it supposedly thrives. From claims that the furniture company Wayfair was selling children by disguising them as cabinets on the website to claims that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are aiding or abetting sex traffickers by allowing access to record numbers of displaced children, awareness of the machinations of sex trafficking are becoming a more tangible fear for many Americans. In Indiana particularly, learning how pervasive sex trafficking in Indiana has been and continues to be can be a difficult reality for those who previously thought of their state as a safe Midwestern state to live and thrive. Sex trafficking the midwest is underreported and dismissed as fiction by many under the false assumption that sex trafficking only occurs in enormous, bustling cities. Sex trafficking in the Midwest can be just as pervasive, if not more so, due to lack of awareness on the problem.
Professionals across multiple disciplines and capacities, including medicine, social services, and the criminal justice come across survivors of sex trafficking in Indiana at a much needed, if overdue point of intervention. This leaves many professionals and advocates at a loss, as they only have a limited role in preventing sex trafficking before it happens. Kalyani Gopal, the founder and president of SAFE Coalition for Human Rights recently told the Chicago Tribune, “There is significant underreporting in Indiana due to a lack of training and awareness among first responders. Trafficking victims do not identify as being trafficked for many reasons, Mostly, they see themselves as being with a boyfriend or being used by a family for paying bills.” The reality is that in many of these situations, the “boyfriend” is actually a pimp exploiting the survivor through manipulation and violence. Survivors of sex trafficking in Indiana have often previously been subjected to molestation, domestic violence, and extreme poverty, leaving them with few options or cognitive tools to recognize a pattern of abuse and report it to authorities. This tracks with a Fox59 report from 2019 that states Indiana was one of only 20 states in the country that had no new criminal sex trafficking cases pending in the criminal court system. However, experts and advocates alike agree that this is not indicative of a fall in sex trafficking in Indiana. Kyleigh Feehs of the Associate Legal Counsel for the Human Trafficking Institute said in a public statement,
“There’s no evidence that shows that trafficking in the U.S. has dropped so the fact these prosecutions are dropping means there are more traffickers who are free to continue to exploit victims they have in their custody now as well as a future stream of victims. One of the most effective ways to combat trafficking is to prosecute traffickers, so this decline in cases is concerning ot us and we hope that this data will show that there’s a need to prioritize this issue and to dedicate, have dedicated investigators, and prosecutors who are working to stop traffickers.”
Indiana has been unflatteringly called “the armpit of the sex trafficking industry in the Midwest.” The same set of circumstances that garnered the state motto “The Crossroads of America” makes Indiana a hotspot for sex traffickers. The proximity to the city of Chicago and major interstates that extend to the rest of the country make the path through Indiana unfortunately efficient to move survivors through, often undetected by law enforcement. By the time law enforcement becomes aware of any sex trafficking activity, traffickers may easily have slipped out of state and beyond their jurisdictional reach. Sex trafficking in Indiana is not only allowed to prevail under the binds of the state, but also through general apathy or horror. The inherent problem with combatting sex trafficking is that from law enforcement officials to private citizens, adults in the United States would rather ignore the problem with internal rationalizations involving the assumption that law and order successfully curbs these crimes coupled with general apathy and victim-blaming. In addition, the ever-evolving sophistication of sex traffickers, law enforcement also must work within a broken social system where endangered children and survivors constantly slip through the cracks. In Gopal’s words, “No community is immune.”
When it comes to missing children, sex trafficking is often one of the most horrifying culprits. Survivors of sex trafficking are particularly between 12 and 14 years of age, have been groomed over the internet, and have been lured from their homes into criminal clutches. Unfortunately, children who are reported missing by their families to law enforcement as “runaways” may not get the attention they deserve as endangered missing children—simply because runaways do not want to be found, and law enforcement often prioritizes time and resources elsewhere.
Sex trafficking is deeply exploitive for survivors, but they are not the only one effected by the horrors of sex trafficking. Their families are left twisting when law enforcement is unable to recover their endangered child from sex trafficking. That’s why many families turn to private investigators to find answers when their child goes missing. Private investigators carry similar skillsets to law enforcement in investigative methodology, surveillance technology, and fact-finding. Private investigators are typically self-employed and independent of any chain of command, which means they are not tethered by the same jurisdictional or bureaucratic red tape. This allows private investigators to follow leads from state to state as sex traffickers keep moving to evade law enforcement. Many private investigators are former law enforcement personnel who can assist police in a recovery effort once they’ve successfully located a missing child who has been trafficked.
Lauth Investigations International is a private investigation firm located in Indianapolis, Indiana. Their founder, Thomas Lauth, is one of the nation’s foremost experts in missing children. For over 20 years, Lauth has been working with families of missing children, documenting the factors that led to them being coerced into sex trafficking, and assisting law enforcement in recovery operations to reunite survivors with their families. “It is very important for families to seek help independent from law enforcement in tandem with filing a police report. Unfortunately, law enforcement can be often unable or unwilling to help families of trafficked children because they see them as runaways. Having a private investigator involved at the onset of the case ensure that families with missing children have a greater chance of finding their missing children.
Americans are captivated by missing child stories, haunted by the nagging specter of “What if this happened to my child?”
The year 2018 was punctuated by a handful of missing child cases that were covered by mainstream media, including Jayme Closs, Mollie Tibbetts, and Karlie Gusé. Interest in missing children cases continues to grow with the production of documentaries and docuseries about famous missing child cases, like Madeline McCann and Jan Broberg. This cultivated curiosity can only benefit the ultimate goal of keeping a missing person’s face in the public eye in the interest of unearthing unexplored leads in their cases. Here is a list of fast facts about missing child cases to inform coverage in the media and online.
Law enforcement in the United States received reports of
424,066 missing children in 2018.
The FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing
Person File states that as of December 31st, 2018, there were 85,459
active missing person records in which children under the age of 18 account for
It’s estimated that 1,435 kidnappings occur every year, but
due in large part to a majority of those being familial abductions, not all
have likely been reported.
The Second National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted,
Runaway, and Throwaway Children released by the Department of Justice in 2002,
spanning the years of 1997-1999, reported that 203,900 of the 797,500 reported
missing children in a one-year period were abducted by family members, and 58,200
were abducted by non-relatives. 115 of those reported cases were classified as
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited
Children, since 1965, there have been 325 reported infant abductions in the
United States. Of those abducted children, 140 were taken from healthcare
facilities, 138 were taken from the home, and 47 were abducted from other locations.
Of those abducted infants, 16 remain missing.
Not all missing minors and children qualify for Amber
Alerts. America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response Alerts are emergency
messages broadcast when a law enforcement agency determines that a child has
been abducted and is in imminent danger. The broadcasts include information
about the child and the abductor, including physical descriptions as well as
information about the abductor’s vehicle—which could lead to the child’s
recovery. Missing children and teenagers who are classified as “runaways” may
not qualify for an Amber Alert because there is no evidence of abduction.
When people think of abductions, they likely think of
stranger danger and violent attacks. However, in 2016, 60% of all AMBER Alerts
that were issued were for abductions committed by a family member.
Since 1997, the AMBER Alert Program has been responsible for
the safe recovery of 957 children.
The AMBER Alert system was named for Amber Hagerman, who was
abducted and killed in 1996.
Missing Children in Media
Etan Patz, a six-year-old boy who disappeared on his way to
his bus stop in Manhattan, was one of the first missing children to be featured
on a milk carton.
Media coverage of missing child cases has been elevated in recent years by American television personality John Walsh, host of America’s Most Wanted. John Walsh became an anti-crime advocate following the disappearance and murder of his son, Adam Walsh, in 1981.
The disappearance of 3-year-old Madeline McCann is often regarded as one of the highest-profile missing child cases globally.
NCMEC received 23,500 reports of endangered runaways in
2018. One in seven of those children were estimated to be victims of sex
The average age of a child sex trafficking victim is 15
years old, according to NCMEC reports.
Child sex trafficking has been reported in every single
state in the United States.
The age group of children targeted by strangers in
abductions are female children aged 12-17. This aligns with approximate age
range of minor children targeted for sex trafficking.
The average minor victim of online predatory behavior is 15
years of age.
Of the predators targeting minor victims online, 82% are male, 9% are female, and 9% could not be determined.
Online predators most commonly target children on social media, photo sharing platforms, and video gaming platforms.
Autism & wandering
Between 2007 and 2017, 952 children with autism were
reported missing to NCMEC. In 61% of cases, those children were classified as “endangered
runaways” or lost, injured, or otherwise missing (20%).
Almost half of the cases of children were autism reported (48%) were recovered within one day of going missing, and 74% were recovered within 7 days.
We can help…
If your child has gone missing, call Lauth Investigations International today for a free consultation and learn how our expertise and experience can provide you answers in the search for your missing child. Call 317-951-1100, or visit us online at www.lauthmissingpersons.com
The disappearance of Madeline McCann is arguably the most internationally famous missing child case since the Lindbergh baby vanished in 1932. The story received an unprecedented amount of media attention throughout the globe due to the international nature of the case and the public relations campaign that struggled to keep the child’s face out there in the public eye. Now, in 2019, Netflix has released an eight-episode docuseries, The Disappearance of Madeline McCann, about the case, taking a hard look at the investigation and media coverage surrounding the case since Madeline disappeared 11 years ago.
Madeline McCann was just three years old in May 2003, when she accompanied her family—mother Kate, father Gerry, and a set of younger twin siblings—on a family vacation to Praia da Luz, Portugal. During the course of their stay at a resort community, it became regular practice for Kate and Gerry to put the children down for the night before travelling less than 200 feet away from their apartment to a tapas restaurant where they had dinner with friends. The parents were not worried for their children’s safety because—according to the McCanns and their friends—the window to their apartment was in full view of their regular table at the tapas restaurant. According to statements from the McCanns and their party, the parents would walk back over to the apartment hourly to check on their children. After checking the children several times, it wasn’t until 10:00 PM that Kate McCann realized her daughter was missing, and immediately raised the alarm.
The documentary chronicles the roller coaster of investigative measures and leads over the course of the investigation. Over the years, there have been multiple leads in the case that appeared promising, such as a famous sighting by one of the McCann’s party of a man walking in the vicinity of the McCann’s apartment carrying a sleeping child. Praia de Luz local, Robert Murat, was a suspect early on in the investigation due to his inexplicable special interest in assisting law enforcement and his continued insertion of himself in their investigation. He was eventually cleared by Portugal authorities. Many angles in the investigation concern the likelihood that Madeline was abducted from her bed by a predator who had been casing the apartment during the McCann’s stay at the resort. The docuseries, The Disappearance of Madline McCann, goes into heavy detail about how simple it would be for a predator to abduct Madeline, and then—within a window of less than 2 hours—have been able to smuggle her out of the country to jump jurisdictional lines and cover their tracks, all in the interest of introducing the child into the dark world of sex trafficking.
While support for the McCann family has remained in the years since Madeline went missing, the vitriol that Kate and Gerry McCann have endured comes from allegations that they themselves might have played a role in their daughter’s disappearance. Law enforcement in Praia de Luz made note that the two smaller children sleeping in Madeline’s room remained asleep during their time in the apartment at the onset of the investigation. Despite a great deal of commotion and adults moving from room to room as they searched for Madeline, the set of young twins did not wake or stir at any time. This led to suspicions that the children might have been drugged in order to ensure they would not wake while the parents were across the way at dinner. Both Kate and Gerry McCann were physicians at the time of Madeline’s disappearance, with Kate having reportedly specialized in anesthetics before moving into private practice.
The docuseries makes a point to highlight the importance that media coverage can play in any missing persons case. It was a subject of note that the McCanns hired public relations representatives to help keep the campaign to find Madeline alive in the media, with high saturation of her name in the UK, Portugal, and throughout the globe. Of the thousands of missing child cases that are currently open throughout the world, Madeline’s face is one of the most famous—along with Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, two young girls who were abducted, were kept captive, and were eventually reunited with their families following a successful, albeit years-long investigation. Talking heads in the series note that although Madeline’s case was an extreme example of media coverage, the question remains how other missing children’s cases would have benefited from the same amount of attention the McCann case received. Despite hundreds of tips and leads that have surfaced over the years, the truth of what happened to Madeline McCann still remains a mystery.
Carie McMichael is the Media and Communication Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. She regularly writes on private investigation and missing persons topics. For more information, please visit our website.
It’s a rather startling number. At any given time, there are between 100,000 and 300,000 children in the U.S. alone at risk for child sex trafficking. While many people tend to think this horrific crime is something that only occurs in third world countries, they are sadly mistaken. This modern day form of slavery is alive and well in our own backyards. Girls are not the only targets either—so are boys.
“These are not children living in some faraway place, far from everyday life,” FBI Director James Comey stated. “These are our children. On our streets. Our truck stops. Our motels. These are America’s children. They are not for sale”
To put the problem in perspective, consider these alarming numbers:
75% of underage sex trafficking victims said they had been advertised or sold online.
A pimp can make $150,000-$200,000 per child each year and exploits an average of 4-6 girls.
325,000 children are at risk for becoming victims of sexual exploitation in the United States.
The average age of entry into the sex trade in America is 12 – 14 years old.
U.S. Cities Notorious For Sex Trafficking
In 2003 as a part of its Innocence Lost National Initiative, the FBI identified 18 U.S. cities where child prostitution is a major problem. Atlanta ranked number one on the list—a number city and community leaders are obviously not too happy about. However, they’re determined to combat the problem head on.
“It’s a moral evil. It’s a moral cancer in the midst of a great city, and it’s something as a faith-based community are trying to address,” stated Cheryl Deluca-Johnson with the non-profit group Street Grace
Her organization is a non-denominational alliance of churches, community partners, and volunteers whose goal is to bring an end to commercial sexual exploitation in Atlanta and duplicate these efforts in cities across America.
“One of our initiatives is supporting at-risk neighborhoods,” she stated. “We know that if all we do is rescue rather than prevent children from entering it in the first place, then we’ll increase the number of children affected by it.”
Of course, Atlanta is not the only city grappling with this massive problem. According to the FBI, the other following cities are hubs for human trafficking:
Grooming: What It Is
Grooming is the process by which an offender draws a victim into a sexual relationship and maintains that relationship in secrecy. The shrouding of the relationship is an essential feature of grooming.
The grooming sex offender works to separate the victim from peers, typically by engendering in the child a sense that they are special to the child and giving a kind of love to the child that the child needs.
According to the organization, 68 percent of these likely sex trafficking victims were in the care of social services or foster care when they ran. However, victims could be anyone—your son, your daughter, neighbor, niece or nephew.
The Warning Signs
It’s not uncommon for a law enforcement officer to list a child as a runaway rather than endangered and a victim of sex trafficking. That’s why it’s so important to pay close attention to these ten warning signs below:
1. Unknown numbers on phone bills or unexpected credit card charges
It’s important that parents are attentive to a child’s phone bills. In an open and honest environment, it can be helpful to sit down and go over the charges/call with the child to learn who they’re interacting with.
2. Going missing from home at odd hours or for days
Although this warning sign may see somewhat obvious, it is usually the excuse or reasoning behind their absence or location that is cause or concern. Keep in mind that trafficker want to conceal the child’s activities by using threats or force, making it harder to verify their whereabouts.
3. Unexplained relationships or interactions with older adults
These types of relationships are clearly inappropriate, but the underlying danger is that the older individual could be manipulating or forcing the child to perform sexual acts or favors.
4. Alcohol or drug use
Alcohol and drugs are common ways that traffickers recruit children into the sex industry. The goal of the trafficker is to diminish a child’s natural resistance to unnatural situations and/or to get victims addicted so that they will do anything to get their next fix.
Any signs of physical or sexual abuse are major causes for concern. Adults should be aware that predators seek anonymity; therefore, external signs of abuse may be hard to identify. More likely, evidence of abuse shows up in changes in behavior or emotions.
6. Delinquent behaviors or increase of criminal activity
Trafficked victims are not just forced to perform sexual favors. Traffickers force victims to steal, lie, cheat or con in addition to selling themselves. Many times, the victims are not engaging in these activities themselves but rather for the older adult.
7. Withdrawal or loss of interest in age appropriate activities
Children at risk of becoming victims exhibit low self-esteem and poor self-image. Predators will prey on children by convincing them that they are valued, thereby luring them away from normal activities and social interactions.
8. Sudden increase in absences and tardiness from school
If a child is not attending school or suddenly begins to miss a lot of school, then they are likely with someone else. Predators will seek to draw children away from activities that they don’t really like to convince them that more enjoyable activities can be had away from supervision.
9. New “street name”
Predators will convince children to go by other “street names” or pet names in order to conceal their identity and age.
10. Sudden change in dressing patterns, personal hygiene or grooming
This warning sign is not a typical teenager showing interest in make-up or nicer clothes. This is a sudden and drastic change in their appearance and grooming habits.
Lauth Investigations and Thomas Lauth are experts in helping families locate missing loved ones.
While each missing persons case is different and results will vary, Lauth has been helping families for more than 20 years and boasts nearly an 85% success rate.
If you or someone you know need assistance, call them today at 1.800.889.FIND or 317.951.1100