SAN ANTONIO – Human trafficking is a $9.5 billion business and it’s happening in San Antonio on a regular basis. Heidi Search Center teams helps trafficking victims come home to their loved ones. The team is now putting its expertise in the classroom, and the state is backing its program to train private investigators.
“I’m seeing kids go missing at 3 a.m. when their parents are sleeping in the next room, or missing from school, and it’s that they have been targeted, groomed, lured and recruited and coerced into leaving,” said Dottie Laster, executive director of the Heidi Search Center.
Laster has been tracking down missing persons for 13 years. Over the years, she’s seen an uptick in sex crimes.
“It’s, literally, on every corner and I’m seeing over and over and over trafficking cases where they’re harvesting our teens and young adults,” Laster said.
Locally, the Heidi Search Center has participated in close to 100 missing person cases last year and a majority of them turned out to be human trafficking-related.
"This issue is the second largest crime behind the sale of drugs because of the lack of educational attainment in too many of our families in Bexar County,” said Tommy Calvert, Precinct 4 Bexar County commissioner.
Calvert has joined forces with the Heidi Search Center to create the Texas Institute of Investigations. It will offer specialized training to people studying to become a private investigator.
“How to write a report about human trafficking, about our digital DNA kit and how we're using social media to find the people that are missing, Laster said about some of the things the center will be training people on.
The program will also have a strong focus on human trafficking so those types of cases aren’t missed.
“We have nationally 200,000-300,000 runaways. Those runaways often are in areas, in cheap motel areas, where pimps and traffickers are poaching and bring those girls into that life,” Calvert said.
The key is to stop those types of criminals before it’s too late, before someone is moved across cities, or even borders.