KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It's been a week since the BIG Search KC, when hundreds of volunteers went to dozens of businesses, hotels and convenience stores passing out information about missing children.
People paid attention. The BIG Search generated 53 leads, and of those leads, 32 were considered "actionable" and forwarded to police.
The search also resulted in finding two 17-year-old girls: Amanda Davis, missing since September, and Shallamar Novak, missing since June.
"It is so hard sometimes for our community to wrap their brains around how many of our kids are vulnerable or missing. In that booklet alone, there were 39 missing minors that are listed as missing," said September Trible with the Stop Trafficking Project.
The leads generated by the BIG Search represent 17 of the missing children in the booklet that volunteers passed out.
"Sometimes it was, 'I believe I've seen them with other individuals,' or 'I've seen them in a specific car. I see them a specific time of day. They come in routinely,'" said Lucy Bloom, executive director of Veronica's Voice, which was a key organizer in the search effort last week.
The areas of focus for missing children in Kansas City are the northeast, Noland Road and 40 Highway, the Kansas City International Airport and Westport.
"Kids are either running from something or running to something," Trible said.
If they can identify what those factors are, she said, it's easier to break through to teens.
Trible and Bloom said that while not all missing children are trafficked, there is a high chance they will be.
"Statistics show that within 48 hours, they will be approached by a trafficker," Bloom said.
Instead of being judgmental, there are simple acts that people can do to help vulnerable teens, Trible said. It takes dedication and commitment.
"It takes multiple times of contact with a youth for them to believe that you really, honestly are there for them," Trible said. "Six, seven, eight times continuing on. Little text messages or notes, little gifts that are appropriate for that individual really can make the difference."
Trible said those "little" acts can mean the difference between if a child starts looking to someone who might want to exploit them or whether he or she looks to a community of healthy individuals for strength.
Statistics show that young women and sometimes young men often become part of the trafficking world when they are between the ages of 16 and 18. If their home life is toxic or if a family member is trafficking them, they can be even younger than that.
A trafficker takes three steps with women: grooming, breaking and turning out. First, a trafficker will "groom" a child by driving a wedge between her and her family while positioning himself as the most important person in her life. The trafficker will give her presents and promise love, which makes her depend on him.
Next, a trafficker will "break" a child with abuse, often both mentally and physically. Finally, a trafficker will "turn out" the girl by forcing her into prostitution because she has been brainwashed to think she has no other choice.
Bloom and Trible said that opening people's eyes to the problem not just once a year but every day will help to locate all of the missing children in the area.
"That is the purpose of an event like the BIG Search, that can show these families and the children that we have not forgotten and we stand with them in commitment to help them recover their missing children," Bloom said.
If you see or know a young person that you believe is in a dangerous situation, call police. To learn more about the missing children and how to spot warning signs, click here.