DETROIT (WXYZ) — An operation from the U.S. Marshal Service called "Operation We Will Find You" led to the recovery of 25 missing children. Some of them were victims of sex trafficking, exploitation and abuse.
With her 7-month-old son in her arms, Lauren Sowell is a story of triumph and survival. At age 14, she ran away from her foster grandparents and eventually met someone who got her addicted to heroin and entered her into a sex trafficking ring in Highland Park. She remained there for seven years until that man was killed in a drive-by shooting.
"It took him being killed for me to escape and be free and to get my identity back,” Sowell said.
Now 10 years later, Sowell is a mother of two. She’s an author, public speaker and a social worker who founded her own organization. In the seven years she was trafficked, she felt no one cared.
“Nobody looked for me. I was invisible," Sowell said. "When I was in the street, it was very hard because I felt I didn't have the attention I wanted and no one sent for me.”
But from March until mid-May of this year, the U.S. Marshals were out looking for kids who had been in Sowell's shoes. With help from Michigan Sate Police and the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, their operation found 25 missing kids from metro Detroit, locating them in places as far away as New Zealand.
"Those are kids we physically had to remove from a situation," Deputy U.S. Marshal Robert Watson said. "They could have been victims of online enticement, sex trafficking, parental kidnapping.”
Sowell said, “To hear there was somebody out there who did not give up to look for these people, did not give up to look for these children and actually got them back is a beautiful thing.”
Now that the children have been located, Sowell says there’s still more work needed to help these kids recover, especially those trafficked, ensuring these young victims become proud survivors.
“Victims only stay victims when they don't have voices," Sowell said. "But when they have voices and people like legislation and people like law enforcement actually fighting for them and giving them what they need, they go from victim to survivor. And being a survivor is a great thing.”
Since the U.S. Marshals partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2005, more than 3,000 missing children have been recovered.