Human Trafficking Victim Rescued by Texting 911

Ventura County Sheriff (Edhat)
Nature of Incident: Human Trafficking Victim Rescued by Texting 911
Report Number: 24-56923
Location: Unincorporated Ventura County, Casitas Springs
Date & Time: May 09, 2024, at 3:00 AM
Unit(s) Responsible: Major Crimes Bureau Sexual Assault Unit
Ojai Sheriff’s Sub-Station
Ventura County Sheriff’s Communication Center
(S)uspect / (V)ictim: City of Residence Age
(S) Gerardo Cruz
(V) Female
Veracruz, Mexico
Confidential
31
17

In the early morning hours of May 9th, deputies working the Ojai Sheriff’s Sub-Station rescued a female human trafficking victim who had text “911” to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Communication Center.

At about 3:00 AM, on Thursday May 9, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Communication Center received a text message from a phone number asking for help.  The text message was sent to “911” with pleas for help.  Text message correspondence began with a call taker at the communication center.  The messages were received in Spanish and translated to English.  The victim did not know where they were but were able to identify landmarks and other identifiable information.

Simultaneously as the call taker was engaging with the victim, other members of the communications center team were successful in giving real time information to deputies responding to the search.  After about twenty minutes of searching the area of Casitas Springs, the victim was found by deputies.

A preliminary investigation revealed the victim had been trafficked to Ventura County from Mexico about two months ago.  The victim was able to communicate with deputies and provided vital information which identified the suspect as Gerardo Cruz.  Cruz was quickly located and arrested by deputies.  The victim was evaluated and her care was transferred to Ventura County Child Family Services until she can be reunited with family.

Detectives from the Major Crimes Bureau’s Sexual Assault Unit responded and continued the investigation.  Detectives booked Cruz at the Pre-Trial Detention Facility for multiple charges.  On Monday May 13, Cruz was held to answer in Ventura Superior Court for Human Trafficking, Forcible Rape, Lewd Acts Upon a Child, Luring, and Sexual Penetration with Force.  Cruz remains in custody with his bail set at $500,000.00.

The ability to send a text message to an emergency call center is relatively new technology.  This incident also utilized integrated translation technology as the call taker only spoke English and the victim only spoke and wrote in Spanish.  The call taker was able to quickly interpret and text back a response in English, which was quickly re-translated to Spanish for the victim.

Human trafficking affects all of us.  Thousands of people are trafficked each year into the United States and forced into sex and labor markets.  Most victims are forced into mounting debt and quarantined from contact with family and friends.  If you know anyone who maybe a victim of human trafficking or suspect someone of running a human trafficking operation, please call your local law enforcement agency or Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.  Callers can remain anonymous.

More information about human trafficking can be found at www.polarisproject.org.  The Polaris Project has information about how to recognize human trafficking and ways to take action.

Ventura County Crime Stoppers will pay up to $1,000 reward for information, which leads to the arrest and criminal complaint against the person(s) responsible for this crime.  The caller may remain anonymous.  The call is not recorded.  Call Crime Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS (8477).                                         

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