VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — A new children’s book, written by a co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, aims to warn children and parents about predators who lure children into sex trafficking online and through social media.
“This is not something that's [just] happening abroad,” said Derrica Wilson. “This is happening every single day in your home.”
Wilson, a former police officer, said she wrote Finding Sierra to help parents and children begin the conversation about online safety, and the dangers that exist.
“I wanted to be able to help share the message of what's happening with our children with the parents, because we are seeing so many children that are being lured online,” said Wilson. “Our kids are disappearing at an alarming rate.”
Finding Sierra tells the story of a missing 12-year-old girl who was lured into trusting someone she met on a social media app. A determined detective in the book takes Sierra’s missing report seriously – something Wilson said does not always happen when it comes to missing people of color –and works to gain the trust of the community to track down clues. The detective rallies her fellow officers and works with local journalists to help find Sierra and bring her home safely.
“We need everyone to play a part,” said Wilson. “I really wanted to demonstrate in the book is how powerful we all are, when we come together and put everything else aside.”
In the book, detective learns the person Sierra met on the social media app kidnapped her from school and was holding her captive in a home with plans to sell the girl into a sex trafficking ring. Police rescue her by the end of the book. While the storyline is grim, Wilson said it draws on real cases.
“We really do have to have those [tough] conversations,” said Wilson. Human trafficking is a $300 billion industry. Society oftentimes think that this is something that's happening abroad, but this is happening right here in our own backyard.”
According to the Federal Human Trafficking Report in 2020, more than half of the victims in federal human trafficking prosecutions in the United States were children, and 89 percent of child victims in active sex trafficking cases were between 14 and 17 years old. Additionally, statistics from the National Human Trafficking Hotline’s most recent data from 2020 reveals more than 70 percent of trafficking victims were targeted on Facebook and Instagram. The report also said there were more than 16,000 victims of human trafficking identified, and most of those victims were forced into sex labor.
Social workers at Samaritan House, a Hampton Roads-based center for domestic violence and human trafficking victims, said children as young as 12 – and even younger – are victims of labor and sex trafficking in Hampton Roads.
LaShonda Carson, a program director at Samaritan House, said Black and brown children, LGBTQ+ youth, and runaways are most vulnerable to trafficking.
“Our most vulnerable populations that have experienced trauma, upon trauma, upon trauma, and systemic oppression, are experiencing trafficking,” said Carson. “Hopefully we’re equipping our children with awareness and education, because that’s the best thing for prevention, is having those age-appropriate conversations about what is trafficking?”
The Samaritan House has a 24-hour hotline to help trafficking victims at 757-430-2120. You can also the National Human Trafficking Hotline at text 233733.
Wilson said she is also available to do in-person readings of the book, and lead discussions with children, parents, and teachers about children and human trafficking.