SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) – The FBI just wrapped up a month-long nationwide initiative called Operation Independence Day, helping to recover more than 100 missing children, many of whom had been trafficked or held against their will.
These missing person cases can involve runaways, kidnapping victims and more, all of these vulnerable missing kids can easily be the targets of human traffickers around the country and here in Siouxland.
“You know, you see things on the news, and it does scare you and you are on more alert just everywhere you go,” said resident Molly McInnis.
Right now the FBI is handling more than 400,000 missing children cases every year.
“We will be trying to hold off on social media and things like that for our kids for as long as possible and heavily monitor it when he does get something like that,” said another resident Emily Hallmark.
Some attribute the growing number of missing person cases to social media.
“If you are in a chatroom and you start talking about how bad things are going at home, someone will fill in that gap and pretend to be someone that cares, has the same experiences, and wants to help you out. We are trying to get kids to understand you don’t have to have a large number of followers, just make your friends your followers, the people that you really know,” said Bernadette Rixner, the outreach coordinator for Siouxland Coalition Against Human Trafficking.
The Siouxland Coalition Against Human Trafficking said some victims are lured in online by someone pretending to be a friend.
“It’s going to be somebody who seems to care about you, is very interested in you, and that you would not hesitate in another situation,” said Rixner.
While it’s easier for people to disguise themselves online, abductors can use similar tricks to lure victims out in public.
“There is also the story about women hearing a baby crying out on their porch and the natural reaction is, ‘Why is there a baby on my porch?’ And you go out to find out and there is someone with a recording of a baby crying and so you left yourself open for that. So if that ever happens, call the police tell them this is what you heard,” said Rixner.
“Being aware and safe yourself, not putting yourself into situations that could be harmful,” said McInnis.
On September 23rd, the Coalition Against Human Trafficking and the Sioux City Human Rights Coalition will be hosting an event called Deep Dive into Social Media at the Sioux City Public Museum. The goal is to help parents and others learn how to protect themselves from potential traffickers online.