17-year-old girl trafficked into the US from Mexico rescued after texting 911

VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. — Authorities rescued a 17-year-old girl who was trafficked into the U.S. about two months ago after she texted 911 for help, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday.

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The girl, who was not identified, began texting with a call taker at the Ventura County Sheriff’s Communication Center around 3 a.m. on May 9. In Spanish, she said that she did not know where she was, though she was able to describe landmarks that led investigators to the Casitas Springs area.

Deputies found the girl about 20 minutes after they began their search. Authorities said she was evaluated and placed under the care of Ventura County Child Family Services until she could be reunited with her family.

The girl had been trafficked to California from Mexico, the sheriff’s office said. Deputies did not say where she was from or whether she has any family or other connections with the U.S.

The teen identified 31-year-old Gerardo Hernandez Cruz, of Veracruz, Mexico, as the suspect in the case, the sheriff’s office said. He was arrested and charged with human trafficking, forcible rape, lewd acts upon a child, luring and sexual penetration with force. His bail has been set at $500,000, according to authorities.

Deputies noted Thursday that the technology allowing people to text emergency call centers is relatively new, and they said that officials utilized “integrated translation technology” because the teen spoke and wrote in Spanish and the emergency call talker only spoke English.

In 2021, the most recent year for which data was available, 10,360 cases of human trafficking involving 16,710 victims were identified, according to data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

“Human trafficking affects all of us,” deputes said on Thursday. “Thousands of people are trafficked each year into the United States and forced into sex and labor markets. Most victims are forced into mounting debt and quarantined from contact with family and friends.”

People with information on anyone who might be involved in human trafficking was asked to contact their local law enforcement agency or to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

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