On Tuesday, September 16, 15-year-old Nisa Mickens and 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas were beaten to death in the streets of Brentwood, Long Island. Police believe Kayla was targeted for kidnapping by gang members planning to use her for sex trafficking.

Rob Mickens, Nisa’s father, had dropped Nisa off at Kayla’s house to hang out at 6:30 p.m. and that was the last time he’d see his daughter alive. When Nisa’s father returned to pick her up a few hours later, the girls were nowhere to be found.

The family began searching the area for their missing children, but it was a passing motorist who spotted Nisa’s body in the street outside of Loretta Park Elementary School at 8:30 p.m.. Police discovered Kayla’s body late Wednesday afternoon in a wooded area near her home. Kayla’s cell phone was found near Nisa’s body. Investigators suspect gang members attempted to kidnap Kayla, but Nisa tried to defend her friend and fight the kidnappers off.

“My daughter is very resilient. She worries about other people before worrying about herself, “ said Nisa’s mother, Elizabeth Alvorado.

Nisa was in the eleventh grade and played basketball for her high school. Her birthday would’ve been Wednesday. She’ll be remembered by her family as a girl who gave her life trying to protect someone else’s.

A heartbroken Alvarado told ABC 7, “She hugged me before she left and thats rare for her. And she hugged me twice and I’m not thinking anything of.”

While the case of Nisa and Kayla’s murder is particularly brutal, the circumstances surrounding them are not unique. According to the FBI, human trafficking is the third-largest criminal activity in the world. It’s an industry that generates over $32 billion a year and overwhelmingly victimizes girls.

A joint study of human trafficking by the University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University found there are 8,830 to 11,773 underage and adult sex trafficking victims per year in San Diego County alone. 98% of these victims were female. The study also found that victims came from all racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. According to DoSomething.org, an organization aimed at young people and social change, the average age range of a teen entering the sex trade in the U.S. is 12 to 14-years-old.

Not every case is like Nisa and Kayla’s. Even when trafficking victims escape, the damage can have long lasting effects. In a story filed September 15th to CBS News in Dallas, a 14-year-old girl recounted her story of being forced into prostitution. As one of the youngest girls in North Texas to ever discuss her victimization publicly, she has chosen to keep her identity a secret.

The girl says she was lured into sex trafficking after using an app called Tagged. Her soon-to-be traffickers convinced her to come hang out by offering to smoke marijuana with her. What she thought was a way to fill a bored afternoon quickly turned into a horrifying trek around Texas.

One man and two women gave the girl drugs before trying to sell her for sex online. They took her from Dallas to San Antonio to Austin all the while posting escort ads on the internet. Stuck without a car, the perpetrators told the girl she would have to prostitute herself to pay for a way back home.

“I couldn’t go nowhere. They had a car. I didn’t know where I was at,” she told CBS Fort-Worth.

“We know that statistics show about 400 underage girls in Dallas are sold each night,” Alicia Bush, the founder of a Frisco based nonprofit that work with victims of human trafficking, said in the same article.

“We’re finding out these girls need long-term residential care,” says Bush. “This is a lifelong journey of healing and that’s really what’s important to us.”

Nefarious activity will always take place when there’s money to be made and people willing to disregard the lives of others. In 2014, a report by the Urban Institute estimated that the underground sex economy ranged from $39.9 million in Denver, Colorado, to $290 million in Atlanta, Georgia. Pimps and traffickers interviewed for the study reported taking home between $5,000 and $32,833 a week.

Human greed and indifference to the suffering of others certainly played a role in the disappearance, rape, and murder of 17-year-old Britanee Drexel in 2009. Drexel, a New York native, was staying in a Myrtle Beach hotel against the wishes of her parents when she crossed paths with 16-year-old Da’Shaun Taylor.

Taylor took Drexel from Myrtle Beach to McClellanville, South Carolina. Fox News reported that FBI agent Gerrick Munoz testified in court that the FBI believes Taylor, “showed her off, introduced her to some other friends that were there…they ended up tricking her out with some of their friends, offering her to them and getting a human trafficking situation.”

Drexel’s disappearance had remained a mystery for years until a “bombshell” confession from an inmate serving a 25 year involuntary manslaughter conviction named Taquan Brown. Brown told investigators, 

“He saw Da’Shaun Taylor, then 16 years old, and several other men “sexually abusing Brittanee Drexel.” Brown then said he walked to the backyard of the house to give money to Taylor’s father, Shaun Taylor. But as Brown and Shaun Taylor talked, Drexel tried to make a break for it. Her escape attempt was in vain, however, and one of the captors “pistol-whipped” Drexel and carried her back inside the house. Brown said he then heard two gunshots. The next time Brown said he saw Drexel, her body was being wrapped up and removed from the house. Drexel’s body has never been found, but Munoz said “several witnesses” have told investigators she was dumped in an unspecified McClellanville pond teeming with alligators.”

Human trafficking is a global industry that generates billions of dollars and impacts millions of people every year. Sometimes the victim is saved and returned to her mother, like in the case of the 14-year-old in Dallas. Other cases, like Brittanee Drexel’s, linger until a jailhouse confession years after the fact. And in other instances the tragedy of a case is immediately revealed, such as in the deaths of Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas.

David Schroeder, Blog Writer, Lauth Investigations International