Human trafficking in the US

I found this article about human trafficking within the United States. It mentions Marla Gene Owen, a fourteen-year-old runaway from California who was profiled on Charley. She got involved in prostitution pretty much instantly and was eventually taken out of state. It was very sad. But her father was dedicated to finding her and he never stopped looking. Marla finally came home on her own, but by then she had a drug problem and she continued to run away from home and get in trouble with the law. She now 19 years old and estranged from her father. The article provides a good summary of how ordinary teenage girls get sucked into that kind of life:

Turner said Marla met the profile for victims of human trafficking perfectly. She was shy, quiet, not likely to question those she perceived as being in charge and had fragile self-esteem.

The girls often don’t get, or don’t think they get, enough attention and affection at home, the detective said.
The pimps are almost always well into their 20s, and often in their 40s while the average age of most victims who fall prey is 12, Turner said.

The pimps also put victims through a program of sorts, one well-documented and glorified in movies and books, that includes a period of charm training and gifts as well as abuse and molestation, Turner explained.

(Good god, that profile sounds like ME as I was ten years ago.)

Ellen Hopkins’s novel Tricks, about five teens from different parts of the country who all become prostitutes for different reasons, features one character from a wealthy family who fits that profile to a T — except she was a little older, fifteen. She wasn’t close to her parents or her sister, and she and her mother really didn’t get along. She met a pimp who suckered her into running away with him and within weeks he’d gotten her addicted to heroin and soon had her turning tricks and doing child porn in Vegas.

I would like to share stories like this with people who wonder why the cops bother to look for teen runaways.

Highlights in the latest missing persons news

Hank and Lisa Croslin, the sort of step-grandparents of the missing Florida girl Haleigh Cummings, have been arrested on drug charges. They join their son, daughter and former son-in-law in jail — all of them locked up for drug offenses. It should be a nice family reunion.

The Chinese government is still trying to identify children who were the victims of human trafficking within their country. Many of them were so little when they were taken and/or so traumatized by the experience that, when rescued, they don’t remember who they really are. A DNA database is in the works and they have already collected over 140,000 samples from “missing children’s parents, children suspected of having been abducted or with an unclear history, children in social welfare institutes, homeless children and child beggars.” The DNA gathering and comparisons will be done at the government’s expense, a good thing because most of these people can ill afford it.

I found this interesting article about the difficulties of locating children missing from foster care. (Charley’s latest such case is that of Patrick Alford, a seven-year-old boy who supposedly ran away from his foster home to find his biological mother. He’s been missing for six months.) The article points out that the very privacy laws intended to protect foster children seriously hinder the search for them. Even the police had to get a court order to look at Amber Nicklas’s file. I suspect there’s probably also a tendency to just not bother to report it when chronic runaways got AWOL for foster care for the fifteenth time. Another problem is that there may not be any family members to supply photos or DNA samples, or anyone who really knows the child well enough to say where they might have gone, and the only one left to advocate for the missing child may be a social worker who, well-meaning as he/she might be, has fifty other cases to manage and not a whole lot of time. It’s a mess.

A good idea

The author of the following letter sent this to me and I decided to post this on my blog because I think it’s an excellent idea:

To Whom it May Concern:

This is an idea I have for finding women and children who are believed to have been kidnapped and sold into the human trafficking / sex slave market of third world and other countries, including this one.

My name is Anna Maria. I am a 29-year-old woman. I am a born United States Citizen, and I currently live in Altamonte Springs, Florida. As a concerned US citizen, my heart goes out to the many families who have loved ones that have been kidnapped and are believed to have been sold into the human trafficking / sex slave markets, and I am writing out of a sincere desire to help.

I believe it may be possible to locate these victims by using the internet (particularly, search engine optimization) to specifically target potential, current, or past customers of the people holding these victims captive with information about each individual victim and each family’s individual search. This may be done by building separate websites providing full information on each victim individually, but optimizing the websites as if they were the same type of sex/adult friend finder/escort service/brothel/etc website that these customers would be searching for.

The websites would need to be optimized for any, and all, search terms that these customers would type into Google, or any search engine, in order to find the websites that provide these services in the locations they are looking for. The websites should be optimized and built in each of the likely languages that would be used when searching. For example: if it is possible that a victim may be held in a place where people may speak Spanish, English, as well as Portuguese, and if the potential customers would be persons who speak one or all of these languages, then that victim’s websites should be completely optimized in all three languages, for all of the differing search terms that someone would type in their own language.

In order to entice the potential customers to ‘click,’ the websites need to have URLs appropriate for what these customers would be looking for—example:, or, or, etc.

The websites should also contain pictures of what the victim may look like now, with as many variations as possible in hair style and color, in facial expression, and in clothing, accessories, and makeup. Pictures or drawings of every single distinctive feature, such as tattoos, body piercings, and birth marks should appear as well. I believe that pictures speak louder, and faster, than words, and while full descriptions are important and should be provided, pictures and quick, easy-to-read bold statements must be prominent. This is especially important when considering that these customers would likely stumble onto these websites, and only remain for a matter of seconds or minutes.

I am a small business owner who has found search engine optimization to be key in targeting my own potential customers. I learned much of what I know about search engine optimization from another small business friend of mine, and from, believe it or not, Search Engine Optimization for Dummies by Peter Kent. It took me a year to finally digest the information and use it effectively, but once I learned to do this correctly, it has been very successful.

I know a lot about building websites, and search engine optimization, however, I am not a specialist. There are definitely people who are experts at web development and search engine optimization, however, not all web developers know how to optimize a website for search engines. If each individual family of these victims is able to employ a specialist in search engine optimization, I strongly encourage them to do so in order to best build, and optimize the sort of website I have mentioned in this letter. If they are not able to employ a specialist, and if they want to try to tackle this on their own, I encourage them to read Search Engine Optimization for Dummies, and any other search engine optimization book out on the market today for help and ideas.

This is a complicated process—especially for persons who are not used to thinking in terms of web development and optimizing pages for key words, but if the right people are targeted with the right keywords and phrases, the persons who actually have contact with the victims of kidnapping and human trafficking would very likely stumble onto these pages.

Usually, families of missing persons only build webpages that are targeted at the regular, law abiding, concerned US citizen—example: This is a great site for providing information to people who know Amy Bradley, or for anyone who may have seen the Dr. Phil special which aired a few years ago and might be interested in reading up on her situation, but this website will in no way reach the people who could actually do anything about it! This site is not in any way optimized for reaching the would-be customers of various brothels in third world countries. Those customers are not going to type “Amy Bradley” or “Find Amy Bradley” into They are going to type search phrases in their own languages that will help them to find the type of brothel or escort service they are looking for in their location, and whatever it is they type into Google, it will definitely NOT be “Find Amy Bradley.”

If possible, please forward this information to any families who have loved ones that have been kidnapped and lost to this industry.

Thank you very much, and best wishes to the grieving families of these victims.

Anna Maria

© Anna Maria 2009 | This letter is posted here with permission by the author. For permission to write about this idea, or to reproduce this letter in part, or in full, please write for permission to Anna Maria here.