Sex Trafficking: Cadence’s Story
It was happening again… mom was too high to sign her field trip permission slip and dad was nowhere to be found. In the short 12 years of her life this had been a frequent occurrence. Cadence would ride the bus home from school, find her mom passed out on the small couch in their trailer with some needles on the table next to her and dad would be off at the bar or wherever it was he disappeared to. She would lock herself in her little room and try and do her homework or watch TV until she was too hungry to stand it. Sometimes she could find something left in the refrigerator to make herself for dinner, sometimes she couldn’t.
People from the police station had checked on her before, but her mom always managed to pull herself together when they showed up. A few different times Cadence went to live with her grandparents but that was always worse. Her grandpa liked to sneak in her room at night and do things that made her uncomfortable. A wave of nausea comes over her just thinking about it. It started when she was 8 and every time she was forced to stay there, she’d beg her mom to let her come home. She promised herself if she ever had to go there again, she would run away.
Cadence was a good student for the most part, Ms. Hawthorne enjoyed having her in her 7th grade class at Miller Junior High School. She did worry about Cadence more than other students though, she always seemed distracted and appeared to walk with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Her clothes were rarely clean, her hair usually a bit of a mess and the way she scarfed food in the lunchroom made her wonder when the sweet girl’s last meal had been. Cadence had trouble when it came time to have her parents sign things and they hadn’t shown up at their last parent -teacher conference.
Today her worry was worse though, Cadence made a comment to her about why the permission slip wasn’t signed that raised a few red flags. After keeping a close eye on her throughout the day she noticed how hungry Cadence seemed again and the bruise on her side when her shirt rode up. As a mandatory reporter, Ms. Hawthorne knew a call to CPS was necessary, she hoped she was wrong, and things at home were okay, but she feared they weren’t.
There was a knock on the trailer door later in the evening. Cadence’s mom was passed out again sleeping off her latest high, the evidence of the day’s activities strewn about the floor around her. Cadence tip toed around her in hopes of not waking her. Two CPS officers were at the door, they seemed nice enough, but Cadence didn’t want them to see her mom. She did her best to not let them in but this time she couldn’t hide the reality of her home life from the officers.
She cried when they packed her up and told her they were taking her to her grandparents for the night. She begged them not to, but it didn’t seem to help. They had seen her mom and even though she had honestly gotten the bruise from trying to climb on the counter and slipping, the fact was she had done it trying to make herself dinner because her mom couldn’t the night before. The officers didn’t know what waited for her at her grandparent’s house and Cadence was too afraid to tell them.
As soon as the CPS officers arrived at her grandparent’s house to drop her off, she could see the sick look of joy on her grandpa’s face when they told him she needed a place to stay. Her stomach turned; she was not about to let him put his gross, creepy hands on her again. As soon as the officers left, she told her grandma she was tired and just wanted to sleep. Shortly after closing the bedroom door she could hear the quiet murmur of the late-night news droning on in the living room and she quietly slid open the window, grabbed her backpack and jumped out.
She took off running, she ran towards the park figuring she could hide out around the playground for the night. Sleeping outside alone scared her, but it still seemed less scary than sleeping at that house. She climbed up into the top of the little castle at the playground and pulled the blanket out of her backpack, she tried to snuggle up in a way that she wouldn’t be seen. She was emotionally exhausted and starving.
The next morning after a restless night of sleep Cadence climbed out of her little playground castle, she started walking in hopes of finding something to eat. Along the way this lady approached her and asked if she was ok. Her name was Lucy and she offered to take Cadence to McDonalds and buy her breakfast. This was the first light of hope Cadence had seen and so she agreed, Lucy seemed nice enough and she made her feel safe.
At breakfast the two chatted about how Lucy had also run away from home because her Dad would drink too much and use her for a punching bag sometimes. Lucy had met Antonio shortly after she had made the run and he completely changed her life. She suggested Cadence come with her and maybe Antonio could help her also. Cadence couldn’t believe how lucky she was to have met Lucy and maybe things weren’t going to be so bad after all.
Antonio seemed great at first! He had a nice house, well nicer than anything Cadence had ever lived in, he let her take a shower, he even gave her some new clothes and let her join them for dinner. Later that night his friends were coming over for a party, Cadence had never been to a party, let alone been around this many adults, but it sounded fun.
Right before the party Lucy took her into the bathroom and gave her some clothes to change into, the dress felt much to short and way to tight but Cadence didn’t want her to think she was complaining, plus Lucy then did her hair and makeup and she felt beautiful. Antonio told her to listen to everything Lucy told her, and she would be fine. She didn’t quite understand what that meant until a little bit later when Lucy pulled her aside and introduced her to one of Antonio’s friends, then told her to follow him to the back bedroom and do whatever it was he asked her to do.
This happened three more times that night, she had cried after the first one, but Antonio yelled at her calling her an “ungrateful whore” and told her to pull it together. He scared her and he had helped her out so maybe she was being dramatic. It was just one night then this would all be over, right?
What Cadence didn’t know is that Antonio had posted a few pictures Lucy had taken with her on some websites, listing them as a “two-girl special.” He was planning on her being his next big income generator.
When her grandma woke up the next morning, she was worried beyond belief that Cadence was missing, she never knew about the abuse and couldn’t figure out why Cadence had run away. She called the police and reported her missing. As she was sitting in her chair struggling to think of who else to call to help. She knew her daughter was probably still high and probably hadn’t even fully realized Cadence wasn’t at her house either, she was going to be of no help. As she rocked, she noticed a flyer from some group that helped combat sex trafficking tucked below her book. She had gone to a community training with a friend, but she had only half listened, figuring it wasn’t information she would ever need.
She didn’t remember much about what they did except that they helped children. She called their 800 number; it was a long shot but maybe they could help. After a brief conversation, she agreed to send them all the information she had on Cadence, her social media accounts and a recent picture.
The team at Guardian Group did their best to calm Cadence’s grandma down, they explained a little more about what they did, looking for minors that were posted online in escort ads. They asked for more information and told her if they found anything, they’d be in touch with her and the local law enforcement.
It didn’t take too terribly long to find the ad that Antonio posted; the team specializes in finding a needle in a haystack so to say. The picture he used was a little blurry and Cadence had a lot more makeup on than the picture her grandma had sent, but they were sure it was her. They notified their local law enforcement partner of what they had found.
Within a few hours and some good police work Cadence was back in her grandma’s arms.
Traffickers target vulnerable populations; the runaway and homeless youth are a prime target. Often these children don’t have a grandma to be worried about them like Cadence did. These children will be exploited, abused and raped consistently for years. Here at Guardian Group we do our best to find these minors hidden in the escort ads, we are committed to be the one looking for them even if no one else is.
If you are willing to help us to continue to look for them, please consider donating today. Even $10 a month can make a difference in the lives of these children. Donate here.