HAMPTON, Iowa - We've heard time and time again about how widespread human trafficking is across the country. Young children are being coerced into what amounts to sex slavery. There is an organization rescuing as many children as it can from this scourge.
The Lifeguard Group is run by a husband and wife team. They are based in Montana, but operate all across the country, because the problem of child trafficking is happening everywhere.
"Every state in the United States and I believe, every county, every town, every community has seen human trafficking within its borders in some way," said Tami Hochhalter, one of the founders of Lifeguard Group.
Because trafficking can take many forms, it can happen almost anywhere. The Lifeguard Group works with law enforcement to save these exploited children. Hochhalter recounts one of their first rescue operations during a Super Bowl game nearly 10 years ago.
"When they busted down that door, there was a 52-year-old man with a 9-year-old girl and that was our first real rescue case. Heartbreaking, because you do see the face of your own child," said Hochhalter.
It's a crusade with plenty of highs and lows. For emotionally scarred kids, it can be difficult to break the cycle of this abusive life.
"Statistically they say a girl or boy will return to the life approximately 7 times before they stay out. So you know your work is cut out for you," she said.
According to Hochhalter, it can take a long time to build trust with the kids she is trying to help. She remembers one heart-felt phone call.
"One night, right before she hung up, I said, 'Well good night.' She goes, 'Wait.' There was a pause and she said, 'I love you' and then she hung up. Whew, waterworks, instantly!"
The odds are not in their favor when it comes to locating these scores of missing children. Good news is hard to come by.
"When we get a victory, it's a victory for us and we celebrate, because only one percent are ever found."
She also said people should keep their eyes open in public for children who are being trafficked. One red flag could be a man who is traveling with a group of many young girls. If the situation seems or feels out of place, you should try to get help.
The Lifeguard Group is also raising money to purchase a home they plan to use to shelter some of their victims. Their organization is seeking donations to help make the purchase. You can visit their website here, for more information on how to donate.