SAN LEANDRO (KPIX) — As Mothers Day approaches, Trudi Bryant-Williams feels powerless to protect her daughter, 12-year-old Amber. Amber is missing — again.
“If she were to call out my name I can’t hear her. If she were to reach out to me, I can’t grab her. So whatever these people are doing to her, there’s nothing I can do for her. I’m broken, I’m hurt and I’m angry,” Bryant-Williams said.
In California, the number of reported human-trafficking cases has skyrocketed 86 percent since 2012. Police say Amber is among a growing number of adolescent victims forced into sex-trafficking.
“These guys picked her up sort of snatched her and put in the car.”
Bryant-Williams and her other daughter, Jennifer, say that Amber first disappeared in March. While police investigated, Jennifer took matters into her own hands, spreading Amber’s picture across social media.
Then, a post surfaced on Amber’s Snapchat account, showing her with a stranger — in Las Vegas.
“I was like, ‘I have to go’,” Jennifer Williams said.
So Jennifer did, walking along the streets of Las Vegas for five days, looking for Amber.
“I went to all the casinos, up and down the strip, off the strip. I went to stores. Anywhere that would take her flier, I gave it out,” Williams recalled.
Jennifer Williams returned to the Bay Area empty-handed but then she got a call — Amber had been found and Las Vegas police would reunite the family. Amber told police that, in the 22 days she was gone, she had been forced onto the streets and repeatedly raped.
“She is different. They have scars that you and I can’t help them with. You can’t just bring these babies home,” Williams said.
Amber’s mother realized she needed more intensive care and enrolled her in a residential therapy program.
That was not the end of the story.
There are not very good stats but children who have been sexually exploited run a high risk of returning to their traffickers. Last week, while in the custody of Alameda Social Services, 12-year-old Amber walked away from a care facility. No one told her mother for four days.
We sat down with Lori Cox, director of Alameda County Social Services, to ask what correct protocol is.
KPIX 5: Is it normal to not notify a parent that their child has been missing for four days?
“I would say that is not the norm, but as soon as our staff are aware, they notify the parent. We are not allowed in this facility to restrain children, so we can’t physically do anything to keep them there,” Cox replied.
This drew a harsh reaction from Amber’s mom.
“To tell me that my 12-year-old has a right to walk in and out of some place when she’s not healthy? How dare you!”
Alameda County acknowledges there are gaps in the system. At a recent sex-trafficking summit, Alameda County district attorney Nancy O’Malley admitted that traumatized children, rescued from traffickers, have nowhere to go to recover, once they return.
“There just aren’t houses or safe places for our people to be after they’ve been separated or rescued away from their trafficker. When it involves a minor, it’s even more complicated because of the rules and laws around how we deal with children,” O’Malley said.
Trudi and Jen say Amber was not just a victim of sex trafficking. They believe authorities have allowed hundreds of girls like Amber to slip through the cracks.
“There’s a bunch of brown babies that are missing in the Bay Area and nobody’s speaking on it,” Trudi said.
Trudi and Jen say they’re speaking for all of those girls — and for Amber.
KPIX 5 ARCHIVE: KPIX 5 was there 11 years ago when Trudi Bryant-Williams adopted Amber when she was just one. (Brian Hackney reported for Eye on the Bay)