Sex Trafficking: Jenny’s Story
It was another cold and rainy day in late 2020. Jenny was at home for another day of virtual school. Prior to the school shutdowns, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jenny was the type of girl that would light up the room with her contagious laugh and bright smile. She had a big personality and easily made friends. After months of being isolated at home, this 16-year-old was feeling lonely and depressed more often than not.
She struggled to engage in conversation when her mom, a nurse, returned home from work. In her loneliness she spent countless hours scrolling social media sites. Watching her friends posting about what their siblings did that day or the sourdough they made with their mom made her envious. She spent all day home alone, without any siblings, while her single mom worked long exhausting shifts at the hospital. Her whole world had changed, and she was miserable.
Recruited by a Sex Trafficker
On this particularly low day as virtual school finished up Jenny logged into her Instagram account. She noticed she had a new message from someone she didn’t know. The message read, “Hey girl. How are you today?” She didn’t recognize the girl, Bianca, that had sent the message.
She instantly started scrolling through Bianca’s feed. She was pretty and her images showed her always surrounded by friends laughing and having a good time. Jenny was so lonely, she felt desperate for a friend. She felt a flutter of excitement in her stomach as she messaged her back.
The conversation flowed easily; Jenny was so excited that she had made a new friend. The excitement grew the next morning when she woke up to a message from Bianca inviting her to come hang out with her and her friends that night.
Jenny knew her mom would say no to leaving the house to meet up with friends, especially friends she did not know. Her mom was strict about being COVID safe and she had been pretty locked down for months now. Luckily her mom worked the late shift that night and would not be home until after 10pm. Jenny would just go for a short time.
Groomed for Sex Trafficking
The evening was exactly what Jenny needed. Bianca felt like someone she had known forever, they instantly connected. She met Bianca’s boyfriend, Jared, who seemed great as well as a handful of other girls. Being around other people felt so refreshing it was hard for her to leave, but could not risk her mom to finding out, so she said her goodbyes and went home.
She was ecstatic, being around friends made life feel somewhat normal again. The conversations with Bianca continued, her life was so flashy and interesting. Bianca went on and on about how well Jared took care of her, so much so Jenny started to feel a bit jealous. Jenny continued to sneak out of the house when her mom worked late to go meet her new friends.
Broken into the Sex Trade
One night Bianca invited Jenny to join them at a party. She told her to come over earlier to get ready together and Jenny could not wait. When was the last time she dressed up and went to a party? She waited till her mom headed off to work then quickly made her way over to Bianca’s apartment. There Bianca did her makeup and hair and when Jenny pulled on her jeans and t-shirt Bianca started laughing. She quickly pulled a dress out of her closet and told her to put it on.
They drove over to another apartment and as soon as they walked in some guy handed them something to drink. Jenny had never really had alcohol before, other than a sip of her mom’s wine here and there. So, it did not take long for the alcohol to make her feel dizzy.
Jenny woke up the next morning with a vague memory of trying to push a guy off her. Her whole body hurt, and her head was pounding. Bianca brought her some water and asked her how she was feeling. She seemed different this morning, colder somehow. As Jenny looked around and tried to gather her thoughts and her clothes her memory started to flash back, she had not been trying to push one guy off her, it had been multiple.
Jenny knew she needed to get out of that apartment, but when she tried to leave Jared stopped her. He told her that she needed to shower up and get ready for the evening. Bianca handed her another dress and pointed to the bathroom. Everything that seemed fun and welcoming about this group of people suddenly felt different. They were pushy and angry. The other girls no longer seemed friendly and at ease, now they seemed afraid and quiet.
After Jenny and the other girls were cleaned up, they were driven to a local hotel. Jared told them what to say at check-in and then told them to wait in their rooms. He told Jenny that he was watching and if she did not do what she was told that she would regret it. The other girls seemed so afraid of him that she knew he was to be believed. Bianca went in first and checked in, once she was done the next girl went in and so on until Jenny was sitting alone, terrified on a bed in the hotel room just waiting.
In the meantime, Jenny’s mom was waking up. She hadn’t checked Jenny’s room the night before when she returned home from work, because she didn’t want to wake her up. After she got out of bed and went in to make sure Jenny was up and getting ready for school, she realized she wasn’t there. She panicked. Calling Jenny’s phone over and over but there was no answer. Jared had snagged Jenny’s cell phone and noticed the repeated phone calls, so he typed up a text that read, “Hi mom, met up with some friends to study for a big Chem test. Love you!” and hit send.
Jenny’s mom read the text and it didn’t sound like Jenny at all. Was Jenny even taking Chemistry? She wished she’d be paying closer attention but with the pandemic and her workload she was exhausted. Her gut knew something was off, so she called the police.
Jenny was a minor so when the call came in from her mom it did not take long for Officer Jensen to arrive at the house. Their town was small with limited resources and experience, so he knew he needed to reach out for some more support. Officer Jensen reached out to a detective friend in the next town over that had quite a bit more experience with cases like this. Pretty quick the detective had reached out to his contact at Guardian Group, he knew they needed someone searching the internet looking for Jenny and they likely did not have a lot of time.
It didn’t take long before Guardian Group sent an escort ad over to Officer Jensen that was for a young girl fitting Jenny’s description. They also identified some indicators on her social media accounts that gave reason to believe she was potentially being groomed for trafficking.
Officer Jensen and a mix of detectives and officers from both towns came together to develop a sting operation to recover Jenny with the goal of arresting those responsible for exploiting her.
Before the undercover officer showed up in Jenny’s hotel room, she had already been with 5 men. She was exhausted and terrified. Her body shook when she heard another knock on the door. Once the officer clarified who he was she felt a tidal wave of relief come over her. The officers also located Jared in the parking lot and arrested him before removing Jenny and the other girls from their rooms.
Jenny needed quite a bit of support and was grateful for the victim advocate that arrived at the police station to help connect her to the right resources. She had never been so happy to see her mom. The two embraced and cried together realizing that their lives would never be quite the same.
Become a Guardian
The crime of trafficking is flourishing with the help of the internet. Predators have the ability to reach so many more young people online while more easily evading law enforcement. Jenny was lucky that she had her mom to advocate and get help for her. She was also lucky that she was still underage and therefore the response from law enforcement could be immediate.
Officers across the country need intelligence support at the ready for situations like this. Guardian Group’s PURSUIT® team has eyes on this crime daily and are here waiting when officers need this intelligence support resource that their department does not have in house.
April is Child Abuse Awareness Month and sex trafficking is a severe form of child abuse. Help us stop this type of child abuse by becoming a monthly supporter of Guardian Group. As a Guardian you help ensure that this resource is available in situations just like Jenny’s. A set of eyes with years of training to find publicly available information that is helpful to law enforcement in the recovery of victims and the prosecution of predators. Will you consider joining us in this fight by donating monthly? Together we can provide hope to victims just like Jenny. Become a Guardian
*Disclaimer: We strive to never re-victimize someone by telling their story, we also strive to protect any information that may be used in an open legal investigation and therefore Jenny’s story is a combination of multiple survivors’ stories and all names and locations have been changed.