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.
Americans are obsessed with true crime material, particularly those concerning missing children, like the popular Netflix docuseries The Disappearance of Madeline McCann. Due to their sensational narratives, these cases typically revolve around conspiracy within or adjacent to the family. Missing children experts have also said that in a majority of cases, these children are abducted by someone they know rather than a stranger. The reality is that the danger comes from both strangers and family members who sold children into this form of modern-day slavery. 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.
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.
Reality of Sex Trafficking and Kidnapping in the US:
Corinna Slusser Missing Since 2017
Corinna Slusser was last seen in New York City in September 2017
Corinna Slusser, 19, was last seen at the Haven Motel in Queens, New York the morning of September 20, 2017. New York Police Department (NYPD) fears she was kidnapped by a sex trafficking ring and friends and family fear the worst.
According to relatives, in early 2017, Slusser had dropped out of her Bloomberg, Pennsylvania high school and moved to New York City with a 32-year old man she had hoped was giving her a “fresh start.”
According to Marnie O’Neill’s article “Missing teen feared kidnapped by sex-trafficking ring left cryptic Instagram clue,” Slusser’s aunt Julie Anne Becker-Calfa told Dateline, “She wanted out of this small town and this guy gave her that out.”
Police instead suspect the man, turned “pimp”, lured her into prostitution.
Police fear Corinna Slusser has been kidnapped into a sex trafficking ring
The pimp, whose name has been withheld by police, was arrested and held on a $1000 bond.
Court documents revealed on August 25, 2017, police had responded to a 911 call at 1:15 am from the Harlem Vista Hotel and found Slusser “crying and shaking”. She told officers her pimp had stolen $300 from her while she was in the shower. He began strangling her when she confronted him, slamming her against the wall, making it hard for her to breathe.
The court issued a temporary “Order of Protection” to Slusser and a copy was mailed to the address she listed on file at her mother’s home back in Pennsylvania.
Slusser’s mother, Sabina Tuorto, opened the mail to find a copy of the order several days later. Fearfully, she called her daughter to ask what was going on; however, Slusser told her mother not to worry.
When Slusser did not show up at her grandfather’s funeral in Florida, her family reported her missing on September 12th.
On September 20th, an anonymous individual called the NYPD and told them Slusser had been seen leaving a hotel in Queens. Police have confirmed; however, she has not been seen since, elevating concerns of family and police.
Mysterious Instagram Post
On September 10th, Slusser posted a puzzling message and mysterious photograph on Instagram featuring a young woman wearing a black baseball cap and smoking a joint in the middle of heavy traffic on a city street. It was her last post since she was reported missing.
An avid social media user, Corinna Slusser’s last Instagram post on September 10, 2017
NYPD’s Vice Human Trafficking Team fear Slusser has been kidnapped by a sex-trafficking ring and passed to different pimps since her disappearance. Investigators suspect sex-traffickers kidnapped Slusser after she reported her pimp to police, a rule not to be broken in the underground world of sex-trafficking.She tagged the picture, “The Bronx”, but friends and family both have said the picture looks like it was taken somewhere in South America rather than New York.
Prior to her disappearance, a cheerleader and popular student in high school with future dreams of becoming a makeup artist, Slusser suddenly moved out of her mother’s home at age 17 and dropped out of school. While staying at a friend’s home near her mother, Slosser began suffering from depression and attempted suicide. While recovering in the hospital, she met the man who lured her to New York in March.
From High School to Possible Call Girl
According to an interview with Oxygen, “Corinna Slusser’s Aunt Believes She Was a ‘Call Girl’ Who Was Killed or Abducted After Attempting to Go Home”, Becky’s aunt told them she fears her niece was abducted or murdered after trying to return home.
While in New York, Slusser sent home photographs of her new apartment in the Bronx telling family she was working “customer service” on weekends.
According to Slusser’s aunt Becker-Calfa, Slusser’s social media posts were becoming more provocative and inappropriate.
She told Oxygen, “People have come forward saying she was boasting that she was making a lot of money doing things called dinner dates but saying there was no sex involved – that was when she first moved out there – and that meant they were just paying to take her to dinner. [Police] believe that escalated into actually being a call girl. She was still being treated well and apparently was able to get her own apartment. When she wanted to go home the next day, that was when they believe she was abducted.”
On October 10th, Slusser’s mother posted a plea on Facebook, “My daughter was a great student, a cheerleader. She had many friends and lived her life as a normal teenager. I need her home and I can’t bear any more days like this, I fear the worst, but I pray for the best and her return home.”
NY Daily News, “Missing teen sex trafficking victim has likely been passed between pimps and sent out of New York,” reports police suspect Slusser is no longer in New York city. They feared she had been moved from her home-base in Harlem or killed after filing assault charges.
A source told Daily News, “There is no indication she is subject to foul play,” but added nothing is certain. Slusser’s name has come up in several vice investigations giving some hope she is still out there.
As an avid social media user, there have been no posts from Slusser since September 2017.
The Toll of Human and Sex Trafficking
Human trafficking is defined as the exchange of money for services that have been obtained by force, fraud or coercion. There is little to no difference in the definition of sex trafficking.
Thomas Lauth, CEO of Lauth Investigations International, has worked missing persons, human and sex-trafficking cases for over twenty years. “Human trafficking is a hidden crime because victims are often afraid to come forward,” said Lauth. “They fear the wrath of the traffickers and may also fear law enforcement.”
A sex-trafficking victim profiled in a BBC report, “Shandra Woworuntu: My life as a sex trafficking victim,” had arrived in the U.S. hoping to start a new career in the hotel industry. Instead, she was trafficked into prostitution, sexual slavery, forced drug-ingestion and extreme violence.
Shandra Woworuntu, a human sex trafficking survivor now runs Mentari, helping other survivors.
“Customer service is the key to this job, I was told,” said Woworuntu. A graduate of finance, she passed the tests for employment and accepted the job working in the U.S. for $5,000 per month.
“I arrived at JFK airport with four other women and a man and we were divided into two groups. Johnny took all my documents, including my passport, and led me to his car with two other women,” said Woworuntu.
The driver proceeded to take her to another driver, they exchanged money and demanded they switch cars. This happened three more times. They were taken to a house where they were exchanged, yet again, to a driver with a gun.
“After just a few hours in the U.S. I was forced to have sex,” Woworuntu said. “I did what I was told.”
The traffickers who participated in Woworuntu’s kidnapping were American, Indonesian, Taiwanese, and Malaysian Chinese. One man even had a police badge though she does not know to this day if he was really an official.
She was then taken up and down I-95, to various brothels, apartment buildings, hotels and casinos on the East coast. Woworuntu said, “I was rarely in the same place, and I never knew where I was going.”
The traffickers made her take drugs like meth, cocaine and weed at gunpoint, along with alcohol. Some customers were violent, white guys, black guys, Hispanics guys, old men and even university students.
The traffickers had told Woworuntu she had to pay back $30,000 before freedom would be granted. She would have to service, at least, 300 men to afford this amount. She felt hopeless.
With all the strength she could muster, Woworuntu found an opportunity to escape. She went to police as well as the Indonesian consulate but received no help. She found herself sleeping on the Staten Island Ferry, the NYC Subway and Times Square when a man listened to her story and called the FBI.
Eventually, “Johnny” and others were arrested due to Woworuntu’s testimony. Several other women were freed because of Woworuntu’s courage.
The rest of the story is now history and Woworuntu is a success story. “The FBI connected me with Safe Horizon, an organization in New York that helps victims of crime and abuse, including survivors of human trafficking,” said Woworuntu.
The group helped her get housing and secure a job. For her cooperation with the FBI, she was granted permanent residency.
Now, 17 years later, Woworuntu runs Mentari, a Human Trafficking Survivor and Empowerment program.
The organization offers:
Children’s Educational Books
Culinary Art Training
Peer to Peer Support
Training and Lectures
Transitional Housing (planning)
“When we find victims of sex-trafficking, ensuring they have the proper resources gives them a better chance at overcoming the trauma of being a victim,” says Lauth. “Programs like Mentari are giving victims a fighting chance.”