Teens recruited into sex trafficking through apps on phones

A Metro Detroit mom still worries about her teenage daughter's safety more than a year after she was rescued from a sex-trafficking ring.

"You could have never told me this would have happened to me," she said.

Local 4 is not revealing her identity to protect her family.

"For anybody to sit back there and say this could never happen to them, yes it can happen to you, in your child, in your house," the mom said.

This mom said her daughter was a good student and an athlete, and they are close. Until her daughter disappeared, this mom had no idea that her daughter had been caught up in a sex-trafficking ring. She said it began on the dating app Tinder, where she met someone who became her boyfriend. She said they started dating and then the boyfriend asked her to go out with his friends.

"Then started off like, 'Oh, one of my friends has a big event they're going to, could you escort him? He just wants your company just because you're so funny. Could you just go? He wants to go to the movies. Could you just go with him? That's all you have to do.' They would give her like $40," the mom said.

She said it continued with her daughter going to the movies and going out to eat with the men, who would give her $40 or $50, then after about six or seven times, her daughter was told that she had to sleep with the men.

Rescued from hotels

The Southeast Michigan Trafficking and Exploitation Crimes task force rescued her daughter twice from hotels in Dearborn and Macomb county. Now, this mom keeps her daughter out-of-state so she will not be pulled back into sex trafficking.

"Unfortunately, most of the trends that we're seeing, especially in the sex trafficking side of it, is that the victims that get involved are voluntary at first. So they are almost always voluntary at some point. They are either boyfriended into it, meaning the person that is eventually going to exploit them brings them into it as a relationship and then there comes to be expectations with that relationship and they get involved into a sex-trafficking situation," Krebs said.

Sarah Krebs, a detective/sergeant with Michigan State Police, works in the Missing Persons Coordination Unit. She said while more girls are pulled into sex trafficking, boys can be targeted, too.

"Parents need to be aware too that if there child is home every night in bed, it doesn't mean that they're also not falling victim to this," Krebs said. "We have seen cases where girls have been exploited and are still going to school every day and are still in bed every night, but they are doing this in their free time."

Human trafficking happening across Michigan

Runaways are not the only ones targeted for sex trafficking. Krebs said human trafficking is happening in every county in Michigan.

"Parents have to be very cognizant that if their child has a smartphone that they have accessibility to be exploited on a lot of different terms," Krebs said. "There's a lot of different apps out there that they should be suspicious of if their children have them."

The apps include Kik, Snapchat and Tinder.

"For anybody out there who has a little girl or little boy 12, 13, 14, 15, you need to be aware of the phone and the apps you have to be aware, not even a choice, 'Oh, I'm going to check it.' You have to," the mom said.

"We see most of the recruitment for sex trafficking happening online and it's not always unknown males that are contacting females. A lot of times it's females contacting other females, sometimes in their own peer group that are recruiting them towards these efforts," Krebs said. "If someone is offering them a modeling job or something that sounds to good to be true, it probably is. And these sex traffickers know ... how to groom your child. They know what they're interested in, what they want, they'll give them those to try to get them, entice them into their world."

Krebs said another red flag for parents is children coming home with unexplained gifts.

"If they're coming home and they have highlights in their hair or braids or extensions, nails, acrylic nails or shellac, those things cost a lot of money and if your child doesn't have the type of income that could support that or you're not giving them that kind of money, where is it coming from? Those are questions that you need to ask," Krebs said.

She recommends parents keep smartphones out of their children's rooms, especially at night.

This mom also wants you to watch what your children are doing online, look at their phones, know who is picking up your children and what is going on when you are not home.

Another red flag to talk to your children about is online strangers. If they're meeting and talking to strangers online, they could be getting friended into a sex-trafficking situation.


Dawn Connelly