When it comes to missing children and teenagers, there are a broad spectrum of factors that can play a role in their disappearances. Everything from home and family life to social and environmental risk factors are on the board, but the fact remains that despite the circumstances, all missing or runaway children are at risk of being trafficked once they leave the safety of their homes. Protecting against sex trafficking is a higher priority than ever for parents who know that their children will face risk around every corner.
Tips for Protecting Against Sex Trafficking
Protecting teenagers from sex trafficking is a critical concern, and it’s essential to educate both teenagers and their parents or guardians about the risks involved. Here are some steps you can take to help protect your teen from sex trafficking:
Open communication: Establish open and honest communication with your teenager. Create a safe space where they feel comfortable discussing their concerns and experiences. Encourage them to share any suspicious or uncomfortable encounters they may have had or witnessed.
Educate your teen: Teach your teen about the dangers of sex trafficking and the tactics traffickers use to lure victims. Explain the signs and red flags associated with potential trafficking situations. Make them aware of the importance of personal boundaries, consent, and healthy relationships.
Online safety: Help your teen understand the risks of online interactions. Educate them about the potential dangers of sharing personal information online and the importance of privacy settings on social media platforms. Encourage them to use strong passwords and avoid engaging in conversations with strangers online.
Monitor online activities: Keep an eye on your teen’s online activities without invading their privacy. Consider installing parental control software or using monitoring apps to track their internet usage, including social media platforms and messaging apps. Regularly review their friend lists and connections, looking out for any suspicious individuals.
Teach critical thinking: Help your teen develop critical thinking skills to evaluate the information they encounter online and offline. Teach them to question the credibility and intentions of sources, advertisements, and potential recruiters. Encourage them to think independently and make informed decisions.
Be involved in their life: Maintain a strong and supportive relationship with your teen. Show interest in their activities, hobbies, and friends. By staying involved, you are more likely to notice any changes in behavior, sudden secrecy, or signs of distress.
Set boundaries and guidelines: Establish clear boundaries and guidelines for your teen’s activities, both online and offline. Discuss the importance of curfews, knowing their whereabouts, and seeking your permission before going to unfamiliar places or attending events. Encourage them to inform you or a trusted adult if plans change.
Encourage a support network: Encourage your teen to develop relationships with trusted adults, such as teachers, mentors, or family friends. These individuals can provide guidance, support, and additional perspectives outside the immediate family.
Report suspicious activity: Teach your teen how to recognize and report suspicious behavior. Make sure they know the appropriate authorities to contact, such as local law enforcement or organizations dedicated to combating human trafficking.
Seek professional help: If you suspect that your teen may be at risk or has already been involved in sex trafficking, seek professional assistance immediately. Contact local law enforcement and specialized organizations that can provide guidance, resources, and support for victims and their families.
Remember, preventing sex trafficking requires ongoing education, open communication, and a supportive environment. By implementing these strategies, you can significantly reduce the risks for your teen and empower them to stay safe. If you have concerns your missing teen may be vulnerable to sex trafficking, contact our office to learn how our team of private investigators can give you peace of mind when it comes to the safety of your children.
In recent weeks, U.S. marshals have recovered 72 survivors of sex trafficking in Indiana, Ohio, and Georgia during “Operation Homecoming” in tandem with a string of similar operations occurring throughout the United States. The operation concludes within children from a wide age range being rescued from dangerous criminals who intend to traffic these children with intent to exploit throughout the United States and the globe. Of those children, eight were recovered in Indiana, leaving many with questions regarding sex trafficking in the Midwest.
Because cases of sex trafficking are not often reported on in extensive detail, social justice warriors have taken to creating hashtags to spread awareness. Among these is the hashtag #SaveOurChildren which seeks to bring awareness to sex trafficking and the pervasive cloak of criminal conspiracy under which it supposedly thrives. From claims that the furniture company Wayfair was selling children by disguising them as cabinets on the website to claims that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are aiding or abetting sex traffickers by allowing access to record numbers of displaced children, awareness of the machinations of sex trafficking are becoming a more tangible fear for many Americans. In Indiana particularly, learning how pervasive sex trafficking in Indiana has been and continues to be can be a difficult reality for those who previously thought of their state as a safe Midwestern state to live and thrive. Sex trafficking the midwest is underreported and dismissed as fiction by many under the false assumption that sex trafficking only occurs in enormous, bustling cities. Sex trafficking in the Midwest can be just as pervasive, if not more so, due to lack of awareness on the problem.
Professionals across multiple disciplines and capacities, including medicine, social services, and the criminal justice come across survivors of sex trafficking in Indiana at a much needed, if overdue point of intervention. This leaves many professionals and advocates at a loss, as they only have a limited role in preventing sex trafficking before it happens. Kalyani Gopal, the founder and president of SAFE Coalition for Human Rights recently told the Chicago Tribune, “There is significant underreporting in Indiana due to a lack of training and awareness among first responders. Trafficking victims do not identify as being trafficked for many reasons, Mostly, they see themselves as being with a boyfriend or being used by a family for paying bills.” The reality is that in many of these situations, the “boyfriend” is actually a pimp exploiting the survivor through manipulation and violence. Survivors of sex trafficking in Indiana have often previously been subjected to molestation, domestic violence, and extreme poverty, leaving them with few options or cognitive tools to recognize a pattern of abuse and report it to authorities. This tracks with a Fox59 report from 2019 that states Indiana was one of only 20 states in the country that had no new criminal sex trafficking cases pending in the criminal court system. However, experts and advocates alike agree that this is not indicative of a fall in sex trafficking in Indiana. Kyleigh Feehs of the Associate Legal Counsel for the Human Trafficking Institute said in a public statement,
“There’s no evidence that shows that trafficking in the U.S. has dropped so the fact these prosecutions are dropping means there are more traffickers who are free to continue to exploit victims they have in their custody now as well as a future stream of victims. One of the most effective ways to combat trafficking is to prosecute traffickers, so this decline in cases is concerning ot us and we hope that this data will show that there’s a need to prioritize this issue and to dedicate, have dedicated investigators, and prosecutors who are working to stop traffickers.”
Indiana has been unflatteringly called “the armpit of the sex trafficking industry in the Midwest.” The same set of circumstances that garnered the state motto “The Crossroads of America” makes Indiana a hotspot for sex traffickers. The proximity to the city of Chicago and major interstates that extend to the rest of the country make the path through Indiana unfortunately efficient to move survivors through, often undetected by law enforcement. By the time law enforcement becomes aware of any sex trafficking activity, traffickers may easily have slipped out of state and beyond their jurisdictional reach. Sex trafficking in Indiana is not only allowed to prevail under the binds of the state, but also through general apathy or horror. The inherent problem with combatting sex trafficking is that from law enforcement officials to private citizens, adults in the United States would rather ignore the problem with internal rationalizations involving the assumption that law and order successfully curbs these crimes coupled with general apathy and victim-blaming. In addition, the ever-evolving sophistication of sex traffickers, law enforcement also must work within a broken social system where endangered children and survivors constantly slip through the cracks. In Gopal’s words, “No community is immune.”
When it comes to missing children, sex trafficking is often one of the most horrifying culprits. Survivors of sex trafficking are particularly between 12 and 14 years of age, have been groomed over the internet, and have been lured from their homes into criminal clutches. Unfortunately, children who are reported missing by their families to law enforcement as “runaways” may not get the attention they deserve as endangered missing children—simply because runaways do not want to be found, and law enforcement often prioritizes time and resources elsewhere.
Sex trafficking is deeply exploitive for survivors, but they are not the only one effected by the horrors of sex trafficking. Their families are left twisting when law enforcement is unable to recover their endangered child from sex trafficking. That’s why many families turn to private investigators to find answers when their child goes missing. Private investigators carry similar skillsets to law enforcement in investigative methodology, surveillance technology, and fact-finding. Private investigators are typically self-employed and independent of any chain of command, which means they are not tethered by the same jurisdictional or bureaucratic red tape. This allows private investigators to follow leads from state to state as sex traffickers keep moving to evade law enforcement. Many private investigators are former law enforcement personnel who can assist police in a recovery effort once they’ve successfully located a missing child who has been trafficked.
Lauth Investigations International is a private investigation firm located in Indianapolis, Indiana. Their founder, Thomas Lauth, is one of the nation’s foremost experts in missing children. For over 20 years, Lauth has been working with families of missing children, documenting the factors that led to them being coerced into sex trafficking, and assisting law enforcement in recovery operations to reunite survivors with their families. “It is very important for families to seek help independent from law enforcement in tandem with filing a police report. Unfortunately, law enforcement can be often unable or unwilling to help families of trafficked children because they see them as runaways. Having a private investigator involved at the onset of the case ensure that families with missing children have a greater chance of finding their missing children.
The disappearance of Madeline McCann is arguably the most internationally famous missing child case since the Lindbergh baby vanished in 1932. The story received an unprecedented amount of media attention throughout the globe due to the international nature of the case and the public relations campaign that struggled to keep the child’s face out there in the public eye. Now, in 2019, Netflix has released an eight-episode docuseries, The Disappearance of Madeline McCann, about the case, taking a hard look at the investigation and media coverage surrounding the case since Madeline disappeared 11 years ago.
Madeline McCann was just three years old in May 2003, when she accompanied her family—mother Kate, father Gerry, and a set of younger twin siblings—on a family vacation to Praia da Luz, Portugal. During the course of their stay at a resort community, it became regular practice for Kate and Gerry to put the children down for the night before travelling less than 200 feet away from their apartment to a tapas restaurant where they had dinner with friends. The parents were not worried for their children’s safety because—according to the McCanns and their friends—the window to their apartment was in full view of their regular table at the tapas restaurant. According to statements from the McCanns and their party, the parents would walk back over to the apartment hourly to check on their children. After checking the children several times, it wasn’t until 10:00 PM that Kate McCann realized her daughter was missing, and immediately raised the alarm.
The documentary chronicles the roller coaster of investigative measures and leads over the course of the investigation. Over the years, there have been multiple leads in the case that appeared promising, such as a famous sighting by one of the McCann’s party of a man walking in the vicinity of the McCann’s apartment carrying a sleeping child. Praia de Luz local, Robert Murat, was a suspect early on in the investigation due to his inexplicable special interest in assisting law enforcement and his continued insertion of himself in their investigation. He was eventually cleared by Portugal authorities. Many angles in the investigation concern the likelihood that Madeline was abducted from her bed by a predator who had been casing the apartment during the McCann’s stay at the resort. The docuseries, The Disappearance of Madline McCann, goes into heavy detail about how simple it would be for a predator to abduct Madeline, and then—within a window of less than 2 hours—have been able to smuggle her out of the country to jump jurisdictional lines and cover their tracks, all in the interest of introducing the child into the dark world of sex trafficking.
While support for the McCann family has remained in the years since Madeline went missing, the vitriol that Kate and Gerry McCann have endured comes from allegations that they themselves might have played a role in their daughter’s disappearance. Law enforcement in Praia de Luz made note that the two smaller children sleeping in Madeline’s room remained asleep during their time in the apartment at the onset of the investigation. Despite a great deal of commotion and adults moving from room to room as they searched for Madeline, the set of young twins did not wake or stir at any time. This led to suspicions that the children might have been drugged in order to ensure they would not wake while the parents were across the way at dinner. Both Kate and Gerry McCann were physicians at the time of Madeline’s disappearance, with Kate having reportedly specialized in anesthetics before moving into private practice.
The docuseries makes a point to highlight the importance that media coverage can play in any missing persons case. It was a subject of note that the McCanns hired public relations representatives to help keep the campaign to find Madeline alive in the media, with high saturation of her name in the UK, Portugal, and throughout the globe. Of the thousands of missing child cases that are currently open throughout the world, Madeline’s face is one of the most famous—along with Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, two young girls who were abducted, were kept captive, and were eventually reunited with their families following a successful, albeit years-long investigation. Talking heads in the series note that although Madeline’s case was an extreme example of media coverage, the question remains how other missing children’s cases would have benefited from the same amount of attention the McCann case received. Despite hundreds of tips and leads that have surfaced over the years, the truth of what happened to Madeline McCann still remains a mystery.
Carie McMichael is the Media and Communication Specialist for Lauth Investigations International. She regularly writes on private investigation and missing persons topics. For more information, please visit our website.
Indigenous women in this country are more likely than any other group to be raped or murdered. The salt in this gaping wound is they are also least likely to see justice. These are very passive terms, but there are no others, because the amount of data available about violent crimes against indigenous women is dwarfed in comparison to those of other groups. Last year, there were 5,646 Native American women entered into the National Crime Information Centre (NCIC) as missing. As of June 2018, there had been 2,758 reported missing. Many of their families have claimed no one bothered to investigate.
The jurisdictional issues surrounding cases occurring on reservations is a giant knot of Christmas lights; difficult to unravel, involving federal, state, and tribal law. It can sometimes be unclear to investigating bodies exactly who should be looking for answers. These cases become stillborn while law enforcement plays jurisdictional musical chairs—trails go cold, witnesses disappear, or develop amnesia, evidence is eroded. These women are not likely to be found, nor are their cases likely to be prosecuted. The disappearance of Ashley Loring HeavyRunner is a chilling example. She went missing from the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana in June of 2017. Her sister begged for help from the Indian Bureau of Affairs, and the FBI did not investigate until March of 2018, nine months later.
Despite the fact tribes on the reservations are guaranteed self-government by the Constitution, the more serious crimes fall under the jurisdiction of the FBI. The FBI is not obligated to notify them if a member of their tribe is reported missing or murdered. On top of that, the crimes do fall under tribal jurisdiction are placed in the hands of a woefully understaffed force. “A lot of times it doesn’t go beyond the missing persons report,” said Marita Growing Thunder, a 19-year-old murdered and missing indigenous women (MMIW) activist.
In fact, the work being done to preserve information about murdered and missing indigenous women is being performed in large part by private citizens, like Annita Lucceshi, a PhD student at the University of Lethbridge in Southern Alberta. “I realised how difficult it is to get a sense of just how many murdered and missing women there are because it changes constantly and there is so little official information,” Annita told Independent. The database she has compiled goes back a little over a century, and she described her experience with obtaining accurate information to be heavy labor. “The police are not helpful. Typically, I get no response at all. If I do, they say they don’t collect the data, or that they won’t be able to pull that information.”
It gets worse. In preparation for his film Wind River, director Taylor Sheridan paid a handful of lawyers to compile a statistic regarding murdered and missing indigenous women. After three months, they came back empty-handed, but had learned some disturbing facts along the way. As recently as 2013, sexual assault of a Native woman by a non-Native could not be prosecuted because it was a state crime on federal land. Natives accused of crimes against non-Natives can be prosecuted twice, by the federal government and by tribal police. This was rectified when the Violence Against Women Act gave criminal jurisdiction over non-indigenous people who commit sexual violence against Native American women.
In 2015, the Department of Justice announced they were developing the Tribal Access Program for National Crime Information (TAP) so tribes can enter and view information in the federal NCIC database, thereby streamlining muddled communications between investigating bodies. Ten tribes were selected for the beta-test of this new system, but as of 2016, some had not received their TAP terminals. Once again, the wheels of justice turn at a glacial pace for missing and murdered indigenous women.
Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International, a private investigation firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana–delivering proactive and diligent solutions for over 30 years. For more information, please visit our website.
Mollie Tibbetts, 20, has been missing since July 18, 2018, from Brooklyn, Iowa.
A new website was launched Monday that has generated over 1,500 new tips received from people trying to help find missing University of Iowa student Molly Tibbetts.
A spokesperson for Crimestoppers Greg Willey announced the reward fund has also climbed to nearly $400,000 which is a record for the 36-year old organization.
The amount of the reward is likely to continue climbing a spokesperson for Crime Stoppers told the press.
News outlets nationwide are continuously providing the public with updates, and the non-stop coverage is also breaking national records. The case is being compared to the disappearance of Natalee Holloway whose reward fund was $1 million.
House where Mollie Tibbits vanished while house-sitting. Photo Courtesy of Chris Bott, DailyMail.com
On July 18, 2018, Mollie Tibbetts, 20, vanished while house-sitting in her hometown of Brooklyn approximately 70 miles east of Des Moines with only a population of less than 1,500 people.
Mollie had been house-sitting for her boyfriend Dalton Jack’s two dogs while he was out of town working about 100 miles northeast in Dubuque.
Molly put on her shorts and sports bra, along with her running shoes and Fitbit and headed out for a jog just like she did every evening, according to neighbors.
Then she vanished.
Jack received a Snapchat message and looked at it but did not reply right away. Police have not released any information about when the message was sent. The following morning, he sent a “good morning” text the following day but received no answer. When an employee at the day-care center where Mollie worked called to see why she had not shown up for work, Mollie didn’t answer. Calls went straight to her voicemail.
Early on, dozens of volunteers searched in empty buildings, in ditches, and cornfields to no avail. Now there are millions throughout the country who know Mollie’s name due to the record number of worldwide new stations reporting about her disappearance.
“A daughter to anybody in this community is a daughter to everybody,” Brooklyn resident Joy Vanlandschoot told the Iowa Register. “We all hope the same effort would be made toward our own children.”
Mollie Tibbett’s has quickly become America’s child, that accompanies a fear every parent of a young daughter, who was just venturing out on her own, has in the back of their mind when their child doesn’t show up for work or answer their phone.
Brooklyn is in Poweshiek County, located just off Highway 6 and a couple miles north of Interstate 80 in central Iowa.
Mollie’s mother Laura Calderwood told the ABC news it has been “excruciating” not knowing where she is. “She is just such an outgoing, fun, loving life, loving person,” said her mother.
Calderwood told the Gazette, “It is impossible for me to imagine. I can’t even speculate about what might have happened.”
(FBI joined in the search for Mollie Tibbets early on.)
However, police have remained closed-mouthed though, even canceling two weeks of scheduled new conferences meant to update the public on the investigation. People are speculating if police may know more than they are releasing.
“To have a complete stranger to come into a small town like this, someone would have to come forward and mentioned they’ve seen this person,” former FBI ex-profiler and director of the forensic sciences program at George Mason University, Mary Ellen O’Toole told Fox News. “She was likely not kidnapped. She either got into the car of someone she knew or had a relationship with, or it was someone who had a non-threatening demeanor.”
However, O’Toole said it was also unlikely Mollie ran away from her life. Though police have been tight-lipped, O’Toole’s analyzation of the case may reflect authorities believe someone Mollie knew abducted her. Everyone’s prayer is she is still alive. In an exclusive interview with Fox News, Mollie’s father Rob Tibbetts shared he also thinks his daughter is with someone she knows.
(Mollie Tibbits father Rob tell media he believes his missing daughter is with someone she knows.)
“It’s total speculation on my part, but I think Mollie is with someone she knows, that is in over their head, Rob said. “That there was some kind of misunderstanding about the nature of their relationship and, at this point, they don’t know how to get out from under this.”
He added, “Let Mollie come home and hold yourself accountable for what you’ve done so far, but don’t escalate this to a point where you can’t recover yourself.”
Robert Lowery of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children told CBS news the case has garnered national attention because it’s rare.
“We always have a small percentage like we’re seeing with Mollie, where they simply disappear and for no investigative reason or for any purpose that we can determine, and these would make Mollie’s the most difficult that anyone can face.”
While some experts in the field of missing persons believe, due to public perception, telling the public Mollie may be with someone she knows could be dangerous in what is clearly a dangerous life or death situation, they also believe appealing to the person who took Mollie may be law enforcement’s only hope right now.
(Authorities release map of areas of interest.)
On August 15th, authorities announced they are seeking to talk to anyone that was in the highlighted areas on the above map on July 18, 2018, between the hours of 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. The notice was posted on www.findingmollie.iowa.gov.
The highlighted area surrounds the vicinity of Mollie’s boyfriend’s home, where she was staying the night she vanished, and two tracts of farmland accessible only by dirt roads.
One of the farm locations next to Big Bear Creek, a waterway that runs northwest of Brooklyn in Gilman, and northeast to Marengo, emptying into the Iowa River approximately 20 miles away.
(D & M Carwash in Brooklyn, Iowa, where authorities are seeking information from anyone in the area the night Mollie Tibbits vanished.)
Another location included on the map is the D & M Carwash in the town of Brooklyn.
Police have not released why they are focusing on these areas and no suspects have been announced in the case.
“We are considering all potential scenarios,” said Mitch Mortvedt, the assistant director of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. “It is possible Mollie came into contact with someone who caused her harm.”
Mollie’s cell phone has still not been located.
As of May 31, 2018, in the United States there were 87,608 active missing person cases in the National Crime Information Center at the FBI. Of that number 8,853 were classified Involuntary, also termed a Nonfamily abduction. The state of Iowa has 35 missing adult cases deemed involuntary in the FBI database and another 63 missing person cases listed as Other.
The “Other” category normally describes a situation where there is not enough information available to law enforcement through their investigation to deem the person missing under involuntary circumstances.
The Missing Person Information Clearinghouse at the Iowa Department of Public Safety profiles the state’s missing adult and children’s cases on their website. You can find the profile of Mollie Tibbetts on their Homepage.
Disappearance of Jodi Huisentuit
Jodi Huisentruit was a popular 27-year old news anchor at KIMT-TV in Mason City, in northern Iowa. When she failed to show up for work 23-years ago to anchor the 6 a.m. broadcast, police were notified. Until the disappearance of Mollie Tibbetts, Jodi’s disappearance was considered one of the most widely publicized missing person cases in Iowa history.
Findjodi.com ran by the news station and retired law enforcement announced on March 12, 2018, the Mason City Police Department had executed a search warrant for two vehicles owned by a man named John Vansice, now 72-year old and living in Arizona.
Court records indicated police were seeking GPS data from a 1999 Honda Civic and a 2013 GMC 1500 once owned by Vansice.
“As you know, we continue to actively work Jodi Huisentruit’s missing person case from June 27, 1995,” said Mason City Police Chief Jeff Brinkley.
(Photograph taken at Jodi Huisentruit’s birthday just weeks before her disappearance.)
The day prior to vanishing, Jodi had attended a golf tournament and according to Vansice, went to his house afterword to view a videotape of her birthday party earlier that month.
Approximately 4 a.m. on June 27, 1995, KIMT-TV producer Amy Kuns realized Jodi had failed to show up for work and called Jodi’s apartment. Jodi answered and explained to her boss that she had overslept and leaving momentarily to drive to work.
By 6 a.m. Jodi had still not arrived so Kuns filled in for her on the Morning Show “Daybreak.
At 7 a.m. the news station called the police.
When police arrived at her apartment complex they found Jodi’s red Mazda Miata parked in her usual parking place. They also found what appeared to be a struggle at the car and personal items to include Jodi’s bent car key, indicating force reflecting an abduction.
In September 1995 the Huisentruit family hired a private investigator from Minnesota, who then enlisted the help of another private investigator out of Nebraska who worked to take the story to national news outlets like Unsolved Mysteries, America’s Most Wanted and Psychic Detectives.
Police have conducted over a thousand interviews during the investigation into the disappearance of Iowa’s beloved news anchor.
The March 2018 police activity reflects the authority’s relentless efforts to find out what happened to Jodi. Her family and the news station she once worked for refuse to give up hope.
(Jodi Huisentruit’s sister JoAnn Nathe visits billboard dedicated by KIMT-TV.)
Last month, Jodi’s sister JoAnn Nathe, along with her daughter Kristen visited Mason City to see the billboards dedicated to Jodi on her 50th birthday by the website group.
The family also released a statement read by KIMT-TV General Manager John Shine.
We would like to send out a big thank you to the members of the Find Jodi team for all the work they have done and continue to do in trying to find answers and keeping Jodi’s case alive, including these beautiful billboards.
It is amazing to us that many of the members never met or knew Jodi personally, yet they are so willing to give of their own time and resources to help solve the case and bring Jodi the justice she deserves.
We would especially like to thank Josh Benson, his wife Tara Manis Benson, and Caroline Lowe for all the effort they put into making these billboards a reality. We are so grateful, and we know Jodi would be as well.
We would also like to say thank you to the members of Jodi’s Network of Hope for all the work they do in making something good out of something so tragic. From scholarships and safety training to the annual golf tournament, you help keep Jodi’s spirit alive, and we are grateful to you.
Thank you for the continued support in our mission to bring Jodi home.
As reported in the Star Tribune, just last month, remains were found in a rural area near Mason City, and a moment of hope is realized by Huisentruit’s family and friends.
Thomas Lauth. Founder of Lauth Missing Persons has worked over twenty-years on missing person cases and considered an expert in the field. “With the tragic disappearance of their daughter the Tibbetts’s family should not give up hope. Family and friends should continue to place Mollie’s information daily into the media spotlight and be in close contact with investigators. With Mollie’s case making national news, other missing person cases stand to be revived by the public interest. Like all families of missing persons, they hold on to hope and sadly, some endure years not knowing.”
To learn more about missing persons investigations, please visit our website.
Every week there are new stories in the news about children and teenagers who have either run away or been kidnapped. When parents see these tragedies play out through media coverage, there’s usually one common thread running through their minds, “This could not happen to my child.” Despite statistics on the demographics most often affected by missing or runaway teens, no family is immune. Parents of a missing child or teen will most certainly have never found themselves in these frightful circumstances before and be at a loss for how to proceed. In addition to filing a report with police, the parents might also consider hiring a private investigator to conduct an independent, concurrent investigation, which begs the question: Should you hire a private investigator to locate your missing or runaway child?
An Overwhelming Task
At first glance, hiring a private investigator may seem superfluous. You may think, “The police are here to help me, and they’re here to help me for free. Why should I consider hiring a private investigator?” The Office of Justice Programs estimates the first 48 hours after your child goes missing are the most crucial in the timeline of any investigation. During these moments, your instinct might be to go find the child yourself or help conduct searches; however, as a parent or guardian of a missing child, your information is the most crucial. A 1982 congressional mandate requires law enforcement to immediately take a report following the disappearance of a child under the age of 18. However, recent reports estimate the excess of some 800,000 missing persons cases reported every year, 85-90% of those cases are individuals under the age of 18. What this statistic tells us is law enforcement, in most parts of the country, are overwhelmed by a caseload (with some departments averaging over 40 cases per investigator) leaving your missing child as a file amidst a stack of equally devastating missing child cases. As law enforcement agencies across the country remain stretched, missing child cases—especially ones where the child appears to have run away—are not always the first priority, as investigators attempt to perform a triage regarding which case requires their attention the most. Private investigators only average between three and four cases at any given time, meaning your child’s case will be at the top of their list of priorities. During the crucial FIRST 48 hours, having a private investigator treat your case as a priority can be the difference between acquiring invaluable information and losing a lead.
Constitutional Red Tape
One of the glowing advantages of hiring a private investigator to find your missing child or teen is the fact PIs possess far more autonomy than the average law enforcement officer or investigator. For instance, when a suspect has been identified, law enforcement often must secure a warrant for them to be tracked as the investigation unfolds. Paperwork and bureaucracy within the chain of command can cause the wheels of justice to turn slowly in regards to local or state law enforcement. Not only are PI’s not required to file this sort of paperwork, but they can also do so without the supervision of a governing law enforcement administration, so the case progression is not stalled for lack of warrant or administration approval.
The Binds of Jurisdiction
Hiring a private investigator conducting an independent, concurrent investigation, means there will never be any issues of jurisdiction when pursuing leads. Say your family lives in Indiana, but while on an out-of-state family vacation, your child goes missing in a crowd. As missing and abducted children across state or even international borders, local law enforcement exponentially lose power to follow leads maybe illuminating the child’s whereabouts. It is also not uncommon for two or more law enforcement agencies to enter a tug of war when it comes to who has jurisdiction over a particular case based on the specific circumstances. This can lead to the loss of leads or time as agencies hash out the details. Private investigators are never bound by jurisdictional bureaucracy. They can travel between states following the trail of a missing child, all without having to file any paperwork or obtain special permissions from superiors.
While law enforcement may have a wealth of experience and exclusive tools at their disposal, it’s important to remember that these civil servants are often overwhelmed with an immense case-load and can only do so much when it comes to the constitutional and jurisdictional boundaries they cannot cross. When hiring a private investigator, remember they have the expertise and similar tools of law enforcement, while also having the time to treat your case as a top priority.
Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International, a private investigation firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana–delivering proactive and diligent solutions for over 30 years. For more information, please visit our website.