Here in Arkansas, where major interstates feed and ferry these endangered victims, there's a crusader who has spent more than 20 years on one search. Her team is now helping with the other one.
Twenty two years ago Morgan Nick became the face of missing children in Arkansas. Her mother, Colleen, has been searching in places she never imagined ever since.
“We continue to fight for the possibility that somehow she survived and is out there,” Nick said. “Before Morgan was kidnapped I had only a vague idea that sometimes children became missing. I really got my education on the sidewalk.”
“She is a daughter and a sister and a granddaughter and a friend,” Nick said of children like her daughter. “She deserves to be fought for. She is not a number. She is not a faceless case file that takes up an entire room in a police department. Every single child matters as much Morgan does.”
The foundation also works with government to change laws and works with schools to educate our kids.
“It's very prevalent,” said Genevie Strickland, the program director for education initiatives for the foundation. “It's happening everywhere. It's huge, and it's just continuing to grow and get worse.”
They have quickly learned to see the signs of the ones who fall prey. Things like multiple phones, strange tattoos or subtle things a teacher might notice are all indicators.
"Notice if they are absent a lot, especially if they're absent on you know a Friday and a Monday,” Strickland said while listing items she tells teachers when she visits schools. “That's kind of a giveaway."
The connections the foundation has made over the years with national organizations means these local searchers are now perfect soldiers in the fight against sex trafficking.
"The national center for missing and exploited children had 18,500 young people reported as runaways,” Nick said. “Out of those 18,500 runaways, one out of six of them, more than 3,000 kids a year are being sexually trafficked."
“My fight is for my child, and if along the way we can make a difference for other people's children then that's what I want to do,” she said.
One further note about selling girls in Arkansas. We are among 27 states where laws are on the books that allow a minor to be charged with prostitution. This is a problem because, by federal law, a child can't ever consent. There should be no way to ever commit the crime.
Here at THV11 and our parent company, TEGNA, we are looking to get that changed with this series.
Research for this project surveyed a database of 1,098 prostitution cases since 2012. While the law allows it, we found no cases where a minor was charged with a crime.