CLEVELAND-- From day one, Gina DeJesus' father Felix knew two things: that Gina was alive, and either forced into human trafficking or being held hostage.
So it’s not surprising that he addressed the issue at Gina’s welcome home event.
He said, “Too many kids these days are going missing. We have a big problem and it’s gonna take all of us to fix this problem.”
Gina, Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight were rescued Monday from a home on Seymour Ave.
Ironically it’s one of the streets Felix and Pastor Angel Arroyo searched just last year.
“We knew. We knew. We told each other she’s alive,” said Arroyo, fighting back the tears.
For nine years, Arroyo and the Guardian Angels stood by Felix and his family.
Now that Gina’s home, they want to tackle the human trafficking epidemic.
We want to change the way they (law enforcement) start to look for these kids cause 80 miles west is Toledo and Toledo is #2 for human trafficking,” said Arroyo.
According to the FBI, Toledo is a gateway for child sex tourism.
One woman who is working to change that is Renee Jones.
She provides resources and rehabilitation efforts for victims through her non-profit empowerment center in Cleveland.
She says the 3 young women will need counseling and support to get through this difficult time.
“The most important thing to start right now is the love and support form their own loved ones,” said Renee, “Letting them get reunited with their family is crucial.”
She says, anyone raped and held captive that long needs time, space, and love to rebuild their trust, confidence and spirit. They need to be in a trusting nonjudgmental environment and be allowed to share details at their own pace.
Renee says, the fact that they survived is nothing short of a miracle.
She says usually victims held captive, tortured and raped only live 7 years, dying from either suicide or forced substance abuse.
“I’m sure they bonded with each other and that had to help them survive; to fight for each other to look for each other to encourage each other,” said Renee.
That same strength will help them moving forward; also knowing their suffering will not be in vain.
“I think it’s very, very important that we use this as a learning tool, because education on this issue is number one key to prevention,” said Renee.
She says parents need to realize that most abductors and traffickers know their targets.
They gain their trust either through friends or on social networking sites.
She says they can be male or female and come from every race and socioeconomic background.
They look for the most vulnerable children and will often buy them things, or in the case of Gina, Amanda and Michelle the suspect, Ariel Castro, was an acquaintance who offered them a ride home.
Sometimes a woman will approach the victim or a man will pretend to be a boyfriend to lure them into the lifestyle.
Once they are kidnapped they can be holed up in a house like the Cleveland victims or carted from city to city.
Renee says it’s vital that parents teach their children who to trust and talk to then constantly about their friends. But most importantly give them love.