Former Marine and Navy SEAL Craig Sawyer, founder of the non-profit organization Veterans for Child Rescue (V4CR), is seeking to raise awareness of the epidemic of child sex trafficking in the United States, an issue that has come under renewed scrutiny in the face of the Biden administration’s more lenient approach to border security, which has prompted a surge in unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the southern border.
For Sawyer, like many others, the reality that child sex trafficking occurs in the United States – his own backyard – came as a shock.
“I’ve gone all over the world in service of my country and it broke my heart to learn how dark and abusive the child sex trafficking trade was and that the epicenter of it was the area that we had grown up,” Sawyer told American Military News. “It’s the fastest growing crime spree on Earth…selling children in the United States. I realized this is evil is what it is. And in my own town. It felt very personal to me.”
That’s why Sawyer decided to take action. The military veteran rallied people he’d met at the CIA and SEAL Team 6, as well as every level of law enforcement, and asked for their help in crafting a fight against child sex trafficking.
With their help, Sawyer founded Veterans for Child Rescue in April 2017. The group is “willing to do whatever it takes” to rescue victims of child sex trafficking in the United States and put predators behind bars.
In conjunction with federal and local law enforcement, V4CR primarily conducts sting operations to find predators within the U.S. The group has also run border missions, similar to a Marine Corps or Navy SEAL sniper operation.
“We climb up into the mountains on the border and we observe with high-powered optics – thermal and infrared – day and night, and we locate the traffickers, whether with drugs or humans, and we report them to Border Patrol who they can effect arrest,” Sawyer said.
In the group’s first operation, V4CR put out an advertisement for a 12-year-old girl; within 30 days, the posting garnered 5,000 local responses “by predators wanting to have sex with a 12-year-old girl,” a result that shocked local law enforcement, Sawyer told American Military News.
The responses included one illegal alien and one active-duty federal law enforcement agent.
“In fact, he brought a cake, a birthday cake for a 12-year-old girl that was turning 13. And he brought a set of thigh-high stockings and a tiny, little miniskirt for her and for her mommy. He wanted to have sex with both of them together,” Sawyer recalled.
According to Sawyer, children who suffer at the hands of child sex traffickers also experience gut-wrenching living conditions.
“Children living in dog kennels…some of these kids are only taken out of a dog kennel to be raped or abused and put back in. Some of them are locked in closets. They live in closets for months or sometimes years,” the former Marine said. “And the tragedy of it…the child can’t even understand why adults who should be helping them and teaching them and protecting them are torturing them and raping them and doing these horrific things. It’s evil. It truly is evil.”
Sawyer described child sex trafficking as a “domestic covert operation” that can be disrupted by “ripping the lid of secrecy off of it.”
“I want to shine the light and cause the United States to be a hostile and non-permissive environment for that kind of crime,” Sawyer said. “I’m out to create a hostile environment for that kind of evil here, just so that we return to becoming a nation, a culture that is protective of children, like we should be, rather that one that is so inherently abusive, as has grown to be the case.”
National Human Trafficking Hotline statistics show that human trafficking cases jumped by 25 percent from 2017 to 2018, including sex and labor trafficking. Out of over 23,500 runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2018, 1 in 7 were likely victims of child sex trafficking.
The crisis has been on lawmakers’ radar for years, and last week, Senator Rob Portman, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, warned the Biden administration’s policies at the border could exacerbate the crisis.
“Each day brings new reports of a surge of arrivals at the U.S. southern border, which we know will increase the risk of trafficking in persons, especially for unaccompanied children arriving in greater numbers,” Portman said in a statement. “I urge the Biden administration to ensure that these children do not fall victim to human trafficking, abuse, or other harm.”
Portman’s warning was based on reports that three separate committee investigations revealed several administrations made “concerning failures” when it came to tracking and keeping children safe after they were released by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Washington Examiner reported.
Over 3,200 migrant children were being held in Border Patrol facilities on Monday, and almost 1,400 have been held in Customs and Border Protection facilities beyond the 72-hour legal limit, according to documents obtained by the New York Times.
The number of unaccompanied children detained along the border between the United States and Mexico has tripled over the last two weeks, filling facilities “akin to jails” as President Joe Biden’s administration attempts to find room for the children in shelters, the documents said.
In 2019, Republican Senator Mike Lee asserted that U.S. asylum laws then helped facilitate child trafficking in the United States – laws that are now receiving a more-lenient overhaul by Biden’s administration.
“Children are brought to the border by cartels who know the U.S. government will essentially complete the trafficking route for them at the end of the road by releasing the child into the interior, in some cases to sponsors who claim to be relatives but in fact are only the final link in the trafficking chain,” Lee said.
“The fates of these children are horrible,” Lee continued. “What they suffer is grotesque.”
KSL reported that Lee said there are “countless” cases of children being traded, bought, sold and rented through channels on the U.S.-Mexico border, including a 51-year-old man who crossed the border with an infant he later admitted he rented to enter the United States.
Sawyer alleges that a huge problem in the fight against child sex trafficking is the unwillingness of judges and attorneys to convict the predators. V4CR, however, boasts a 100 percent conviction rate.
According to the organization’s website, some of the signs of child trafficking are wearing excessive makeup that is not age appropriate, rarely smiling or making eye contact and is sleep deprived. A child may also be in the company of an adult that is not relating to them in a familial way.
For more information on how to help, visit the Veterans for Child Rescue website. Those looking to learn more can also watch the organization’s documentary film “ContraLand,” which includes V4CR’s first sting operation mentioned above.
“There are about 75 Cartel organizations that are controlling and trafficking women and children. Now this is slavery. These children come from our families. It’s evil,” the film’s trailer states.
If you suspect child trafficking is occurring in your area, contact your local law enforcement. However, if that is not an option, contact Homeland Security Investigations at 866-347-2423. Individuals can also submit tips to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 800 843 5678 or through the Cyber Tip Line here.
“Real men do not pray upon defenseless and precious children,” Sawyer says in ContraLand. “Knock it off or we’re coming for ya.”