The nonprofit Saved In America (SIA) was created by veteran Navy SEALs and retired law enforcement to save children from sex trafficking. To date, they've rescued 58 girls, and they've done it all completely for free.
As a police officer in the 1980s, pastor and private investigator Joseph Travers saw the street gangs, cartels and prison gangs form a triad to successfully take over the drug-trafficking trade.
Then, from 2007 to 2009, the same apparatus was used to take over the child sex-trafficking trade. Around that time, 17-year-old Brittanee Drexel disappeared and her story sparked Travers' curiosity.
“When I saw this, this missing kid, I wondered what happened to Brittanee?” he told IJR. “With all this knowledge I had.”
Then he read an article about Navy SEALs going overseas to rescue children from child sex-trafficking “hot spots” in Asia, and an idea started to form. He said:
“I thought to myself, 'I need to do this here.' Someone has to rescue the children here in this country because no one was doing that here.”
He connected with the Navy SEALs from the article, and over time, they created SIA.
“Number one, we didn't want to charge the parent,” Travers told IJR. “Number two, we didn’t want to pay anybody because we wanted all volunteers, which is another challenge.”
The third piece of the puzzle was legitimacy with law enforcement, so everyone in the organization has to be properly licensed and insured.
The Benefits of Volunteers
It may seem obvious why Travers only wants the “highest trained” people for his team, but there's a specific quality Navy SEALs and special operators possess that's invaluable.
“What their training does is it makes them selfless,” Travers explained to IJR. “Everything is about the people around them and not about them.”
The team is filled with the best of the best, and more importantly, Travers explained, the team has “heart” for what they do.
From veteran Navy SEALs to former law enforcement, every person involved is a volunteer and never receives a paycheck, and it's for a very specific reason. He explained to IJR:
“I want to make sure they have a heart for what they’re doing. And the way to measure if you have a heart is will you do it for free?”
Whether it's a separate business they own or another professional venture, the 34 people on his team still earn livings outside of SIA. But when the call goes out for help, Travers explained, he's never been in a situation when no one has responded.
The Key to Success
While SIA is unique in that it rescues children for free, it's also unique because of its success rate.
Since its first operation in 2014, SIA has recovered 58 girls — 100 percent of the cases they've taken on.
Travers told IJR the average time of recovery is only five-and-a-half days, and SIA has found missing children in as little as 12 hours. He said:
“When we get a call, we’re on it right away. We don’t wait for anything. When we find out a child is missing from a parent, we’re assuming she’s either with a trafficker or will be with one soon, and our job is to get her before she’s introduced to that living hell of trafficking.”
He explained that studies show a child will be approached by a sex trafficker within 48 hours of leaving home.
“The trafficker is like the wolf, and the small child is like an innocent sheep. And the wolves are out there looking for their sheep,” he said.
SIA uses elite trained special operations volunteers, people who understand gangs and the narcotics trade, and top-notch social networking investigators, which is a mix Travers credits as key to the organization's success.
“This is the new slavery, right now,” he said. “It’s human slavery, and it’s being perpetrated by the street gangs. If you show me a drug dealer, that’s a child sex trafficker.”
The best part about his job? When a child is brought back home — specifically to her mother.
“Every time we rescue a child, when you return the child to mom — to see the look on mom’s face makes it worth it,” he told IJR.
The Super Bowl
Travers said this “new slavery” is an issue the United States can conquer, but it requires everybody to decide “we're not going to allow slavery to come back into the country.”
This includes NFL players, owners and executives. Any time a large group of men is gathered in a concentrated area, there's a high probability sex trafficking is taking place.
He wondered what would happen if people involved with the NFL got together with nonprofits and aired commercials about the reality of child sex trafficking before, during and after the Super Bowl.
“Maybe instead of sitting on their knees, maybe they better get up and do something about this,” he said.
Travers called on all of the people profiting off an event where children are “getting abused and sold” to speak out against it. He told IJR:
“I don’t see why they don’t. I think they have a complete total moral obligation to do that, as they’re depositing a million dollars or more in their bank account.”
He added that it would “absolutely” help save lives and foster change if there was more of a spotlight on the issue.
“I’m sure if it was one of their daughters, it would be different. But that’s how they should look at all these girls — as their daughters,” Travers told IJR.
As SIA continues to expand its operations, Travers, the private investigator, advised all parents to know their children's cellphone and computer “as good or better as they do” because “that's where it's happening.”
If your child has gone missing, Travers, the pastor, recommends seeking help with your church and surrounding yourself with family.
After you contact the police and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, “Call us because we’ll help you for free,” he said.
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