Uber driver Keith Avila was on the job, when he picked up and drove two women and a teenager to a Holiday Inn in Elk Grove, California. Little did he know that he would end up saving that young girl from a child sex trafficking ring.
Avila, who is 34-years-old and a quinceañera photographer, told NBC Latino, “The worst thing I thought would happen when driving Uber is that I would be getting drunk passengers and I would have to handle them. All my life, I thought about people throwing up in the car as the worst scenario.”
The first red flag hit Avila when a young girl, who he thought was 12-years-old, entered his car wearing a really short skirt. He said, “So you could see all her legs, and it struck me as odd because she was so young and she was dressing like that.”
During the drive, Avila explained that the women in the back of the car began to coach the young girl saying, “Okay, so when we get there the first thing you’re gonna do is give the guy a hug and you’re gonna ask if he has any weapons.” The women talked to the young girl as if Avila wasn’t even in the car with them allowing him to hear every sordid detail, which ultimately saved the young girl.
The women – later identified as Destiny Petteay, 25, and Maria Westly, 31 – also spoke about delivering the young girl to a man so that they could receive their money. Avila called the police to report this incidence of child sex trafficking after dropping the two women and the teen off at the hotel. The police found the trafficking victim in a hotel room with Disney Vang, 20.
An officer from the Elk Grove police department, Chris Trim, said, “He could have said nothing. Went on his way, collected his fare. And then that 16-year-old victim could have been victimized again by who knows how many different people over the next couple of days, weeks, months.”
Avila was able to recognize that the situation he had witnessed was not right and he took action. In the video he posted to Facebook he said, “I couldn’t just drive away. It’s not even an option.” Because of that decision, he saved a young girl from a lifetime of being victimized. Traffickers typically target the vulnerable: particularly runaways and homeless youth, or people who have experienced some form of abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, war or conflict, or social discrimination.
Human trafficking happens everywhere, including in the United States. According to a non-profit organization called Polaris, “The National Human Trafficking Hotline has received reports of 14,588 sex trafficking cases inside the United States, since 2007.”
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