Heidi Search Center Rolls Out New Safety Features

Heidi Search Center logo

Child safety kit updates and new text alert system for families of the missing unveiled.

Heidi Search Center has updated their child safety ID kits with a new feature, Digital DNA, listing all social media information about the child. This addition to the standard ID kits allows authorities to find up to date information in the event a child goes missing.

Executive Director of Heidi Search Center, Dottie Laster, says, “Most young children, and even college age children, do not understand the schemes and tactics used by predators. The information you and your family share online may be similar to giving them the key to your front door.”

Laster has been speaking and training others about cyber security methods. The new Digital DNA addition to the child ID kits will take cyber safety to a new level. Continuing to talk with parents, she hopes this new awareness will help in the prevention of their children going missing.

Another new feature being rolled out is a text alert system. Laster says, “Text the keyword ‘Heidi’ to 56274 to opt in to receive updates and alerts for the missing, as well as news on upcoming events, by text. This system will enable families and interested parties to be informed of available information.” The mobile service is provided by YellowRoseRewards.Com.

In her latest article, What Parents Need to Know About the Internet, Dottie Laster explains in detail the challenges faced by, not only families, but those who support and search for missing persons.

Using her years of experience working in the field of human trafficking, Laster has been able to be at the intersection of the missing, abducted and trafficked. Her goal is to use prevention measures to keep children, and adults, from being in the grip of those who exploit them through sex and labor trafficking.

Heidi Search Center was created 25 years ago in honor of Heidi Seeman who went missing from San Antonio and was subsequently found murdered. The organization has several fund-raising events lined up for participation with community members who have been giving generously.

For information about upcoming events, donations and personal support for missing persons and families, contact Heidi Search Center, 4115 Naco Perrin Blvd., San Antonio, TX 78217. Phone: 210-650-0428, Website: HeidiSearchCenter.Com

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What Parents Need to Know about the Internet

A look back to how it used to be

1950s-TV-Set When I was a child we had 3 TV channels and two of them were snow.  Taking photos meant taking film to be developed by Kodak and waiting a week or more to be processed. We did not have call waiting, call forwarding or even caller ID. The closest thing we had to the internet was a set of World Book Encyclopedias, a very expensive set of books that all parents invested in to ensure their children had access to knowledge and could do their homework.

I was taught to never confirm our address over the phone and to not provide any information about our home, or my parents, to anyone who called that I did not know personally, and to NEVER, even to trusted friends, disclose whether I was home alone.

My father worked, my mother took care of me and had many social and community activities. She got me ready for school and was home when the school bus dropped me off in the afternoon. I would watch Gilligan’s Island and Leave it To Beaver.  Eddie Haskell was such a stinker and was probably the closest thing to a bad guy that ever entered my consciousness. I played outside, climbed trees, rode horses, and all the neighborhood adults watched out for all the kids, not just their own family.

Bad things happened back then, too

One sunny afternoon, I answered the phone and a male voice which I thought I recognized from church called and began saying very ugly, gross and repulsive sexual things to me. I didn’t know what to say or do as this had never happened to me before. I must have looked shocked because my mom saw my face, took the phone from me and hung up. I remember being sad because this man had ruined my beautiful day of riding my horses. I felt sick to my stomach when my mind kept re-playing his voice and his words. I was deeply disturbed by his call for the rest of that day and 2 more days. I was afraid I would see him somewhere and I was concerned as to why such bad things could be on this earth. I was even afraid to go to church. Luckily, it never happened again and I returned to normal quickly.

The day we received our World Book Encyclopedias, I sat for hours looking at photos and reading about amazing things a world away. Now, in an instant, I could read and learn about anything, anywhere in the world.

I now see such a different society for children. Not better or worse but definitely different.

How it is in today’s world

We are connected all the time. Children are connected, not just by a landline phone as I was, but through many applications of the internet, cell phone and cameras. We thrive on instant- instant connection, data downloads, responses and information, information, information!  Our phones can do anything, find any answer, move mountains of data, save screenshots, and forward with just a click and send.

Without a request, our locations, preferences, order history, and more are sent to places we don’t even know are watching our habits, behaviors and social connections.  Apps like Snap Chat, KIK, OVOO, Periscope and more are connecting people, places, images and conversations instantly and often leaving no trace.

These days, people like that man who called and disrupted my beautiful day can reach out with limitless access to information.

Children in today’s world, with unlimited access to knowledge and information, may not be aware of how the information they post and share can be used by someone who is gathering it to use for harm to them, or their family. Most young children, and even college age children, do not understand the schemes and tactics used by predators. The information you and your family share online may be similar to giving them the key to your front door.

As a child, I was in shock and didn’t know what to do as I was receiving that man’s gross fantasy, even though my mom was just a few feet away, I froze. I now understand that my child brain couldn’t hear him and at the same time formulate an effective escape. Imagine if he was also sending me images, telling me he saw me come home from school, threatening to hurt my mother! I would have been taken much further down his dark road.

The present challenge

3601525070_78444c9087_bIf our children are on the internet through online gaming, Facebook apps or other social media, they will be targeted. It’s not a question of if, but how many times.

As the Executive Director of Heidi Search Center I receive calls for help daily because a child has gone missing or is being targeted online. The number of predators looking for children is so numerous that we have to wade through them each time to find the missing person.

Parents and guardians are faced with many challenges that are vastly different from when my parents raised me. A young mind having access to instant information is amazing and beautiful, however, without protection it’s like giving the key to your home to every predator, con artist and schemer around the world.

Children are rightly confident that they can do so much more on the internet than their parents, however, this hubris from them is false. While they can make the internet bend to their will and do what they want, they don’t have the life experience or understanding about the evils that await them online. They don’t have knowledge of how a predator moves rapidly from the virtual world to reality in a flash.

One example, a child who was restricted from the internet by her parents due to messages they thought were inappropriate, went to visit her aunt who let her use the computer.  The adult male she was speaking with through texting apps mailed an iPod to her aunt’s house where no one knew she had received the device.

She began communicating and sending him photos of herself. She soon went missing, but he was arrested because he was found with illicit images of her on his phone, although she wasn’t with him. We went to two more adults, who were also arrested, before finding her in a very desolate place where there was no internet.

She has since returned to her family, however, her parents and family expended all their resources looking for her. Jobs, money, time, emotion; the damage was extensive, relationships were damaged, lives and careers altered.

Siblings are often traumatized and become fearful for their own safety, overly concerned for their parents, as well as the missing person. Parents cannot sleep, eat, work, pay bills or even attend necessary appointments while their child is missing.

Teachers, friends, peers, and even people the missing person doesn’t know are all affected adversely.

Psychology Today  report claimed that when a loved one goes missing the trauma caused is more painful than death.  “The pain of your child dying is incredible, but losing a child to estrangement is unbearable, it hurts so, so much more.” A quote from a mother of twins, one who died of cancer and the other who was estranged.

Children, adults, and minors need to understand the dangers of the internet and the ways that predators use different apps to their advantage. Children also need to understand the pain caused by their absence, whether their idea or someone else’s. They must adapt to the use of technology in an informed way.

Parents need to be educated and informed so they can make appropriate parenting decisions. It will not do to be absent from social media and ignorant of the ways it’s intertwined in their children’s lives. To do so is to invite pain suffering and predators into your life.

Dottie Laster

Dottie Laster

Dottie Laster is the Executive Director of Heidi Search Center and is also affiliated with the non-profit Bernardo Kohler Center where she is accredited to practice immigration law. She heads their Casita program and Save One Soul outreach.

Laster is featured in the documentary on sex trafficking in Latin bars and cantinas, The Cantinera, and her direct rescue work is the subject of the MSNBC Documentary, Sex Slaves: Texas Rescue. She is the recipient of several human rights awards and has been featured in numerous publications including recent issues of Texas Monthly, Town Hall, and MORE Magazine.

She is the CEO of Laster Global Consulting,  has consulted in several high-profile trafficking cases, and has been directly and indirectly responsible for the rescue and restoration of hundreds of trafficking victims. Her strong multi-disciplinary team has an established track record and provide project development, consultancy, and training resources in domestic and international trafficking.

To schedule trainings in your community and become involved in making your area safe for victims and their families, and hostile to traffickers, contact ImaginePublicity at 843-808-0859 or email contact@imaginepublicity.com

Missing Persons and Human Trafficking

Heidi Search Center logo

I’m so honored to have been selected as the new Executive Director of the Heidi Search Center. I’ve been guided to the field of missing persons by many who work around me and saw the natural fit between my work in the issue of human trafficking and how it relates to missing persons.

I’ve been called to work on several cases in the past that started as missing persons, and of course we found human trafficking to be the reason the people were missing. In some cases, we found the loved one alive and in a couple of cases we found the missing person deceased due to the trafficking activities.

Now, I’m in a new world, discovering the many reasons that people go missing. It could be a flood, due to a rip tide, a runaway, an accident, mental illness, or in one case, a husband who went to Vegas and was arrested; happy he was alive, however not so healthy for his marriage.

I hope this will be a successful venture, finding answers for the families that ask for our help. The statistics for the center show resolution for 94% of the cases that are brought to us. Keeping the center’s good record and the daunting task to keep the success rate at this impressive number is just one of my goals.

From all appearances it looks like the center will have a record number of cases this year. Instead of a decrease, we are experiencing an overwhelming increase in cases coming into the center. Our services are free to the families, and there are no grants to support us.

In the 1990’s when 11-year-old Heidi Seeman went missing, there were thousands of people who stopped what they were doing and looked for her. Heidi was found within weeks murdered, her body located around an hour’s drive from where she went missing.

In 2015, we are finding that many children and adults go missing due to someone they met on the internet. The search has now moved from local to global, and often with little to no way to narrow down the possibilities. Parents are at a disadvantage with a knowledge gap between their kids and the use of technology. The younger generation can make the internet do almost anything they want, however, they do not have the life experience to understand the Pandora’s box they are opening. Parents are doing the right things and controlling devices, however the parents do not know that as soon as the child leaves home that they are connected again at school, their fiends house, and even their grandparent’s home.

I’ve learned to remind adults it’s not if their child is targeted by criminals, but how many times.

I hope we can decrease the need for our services, and I plan to continue to educate parents and children this year, the 25th year of service for Heidi Search Center.  I’m ready for the adventure and I hope you will join us with your support.

Dottie Laster

Dottie Laster

Dottie Laster is also affiliated with the non-profit Bernardo Kohler Center where she is accredited to practice immigration law. She heads their Casita program and Save One Soul outreach.

As a weekly Co-Host on the nationally syndicated radio show, The Roth Show, Laster presents discussion and guests who speak out about a variety of controversial subjects surrounding the abolishment of human trafficking and corresponding crimes.

Dottie Laster is featured in the documentary on sex trafficking in Latin bars and cantinas, The Cantinera, and her direct rescue work is the subject of the MSNBC Documentary, Sex Slaves: Texas Rescue. She is the recipient of several human rights awards and has been featured in numerous publications including recent issues of Texas Monthly, Town Hall, and MORE Magazine.

Dottie Laster is the CEO of Laster Global Consulting which has consulted in several high-profile trafficking cases, and has been directly and indirectly responsible for the rescue and restoration of hundreds of trafficking victims. Her strong multi-disciplinary team has an established track record and provide project development, consultancy, and training resources in domestic and international trafficking.

To schedule trainings in your community and become involved in making your area safe for victims and their families, and hostile to traffickers, contact ImaginePublicity at 843-808-0859 or email contact@imaginepublicity.com

Media and Human Trafficking

Media and Human Trafficking

Media and Human Trafficking

A dramatic shift in awareness and interest about Human Trafficking has occured in the United States.

TV Shows like The Killing, the Black List, Luther, Law and Order and many others have included human trafficking in episodes.

Many real life movies about Human Rights and freedom have been hugely successful in the recent past such as Lincoln, Mandela, 12 Years a Slave and the box office record breaker, American Sniper.

American Sniper shows the real life story of one aspect of the war in Iraq, from the Twin Towers bombing killing innocents to bullies torturing children. The audience is placed in awe of the idea of someone protecting other souls. At over $200 million dollars in box office sales we can see that our collective conscience is yearning for the stories of struggle and sacrifice for the freedom and protection of others in danger.

Since the beginning of the year I’ve had many contacts from producers and film companies that are developing projects about human trafficking. (For a glimpse of some of my past and current projects, please go to the Media page)I hope I can help answer some of the many questions my team receives. We also hope to broaden the stories to reflect what we are seeing everyday as we work in these cases from rescue to courtroom to direct victim assistance. It’s often more harsh, and beautiful, than any script could reflect. These are real life stories of human survival yearning for freedom and the opportunity to pursue their highest potential, which in many cases is what freedom means. I’ve enjoyed learning from this work what love, freedom and happiness mean. It’s taught me more about life than mere words can explain.

Here are some of the questions that are often asked and our responses:

This is such a dark subject, can we tell it without alienating the audience?

Yes, it is dark and some of the most horrible series of crimes are ALL committed upon one victim. It’s not just a single crime, but a spectrum of crimes and a climate of fear that encircles victims.

However, as with all compelling stories, the human will and spirit overcoming insurmountable obstacles moves viewers to awe and amazement. The unconditional love of putting oneself in harm’s way to protect another reaches many hearts and sparks conversations.

 Aren’t you ever afraid? Do you receive threats?

Yes, we (my team) are often in danger, however, we believe that if we are feeling threatened how must the victims feel? It’s much harder to intimidate an adult woman who is surrounded by a team of professionals, media and law enforcement contacts than it is to scare a hurt teenager, or an adult struggling to protect his/her family or children.

We make ourselves a very hard target, if bad guys want to hurt us they can, however, they will lose something for their efforts. This is the point where having media helps, it’s very intimidating to the bad guys to see how big a presence we have in society.

If we were unknown, I believe we would receive more attacks.

 Will the victims be willing to speak out about their experiences?

Yes, many victims have cases that need public attention. Often the victims are arrested and prosecuted for acts related to the trafficking and I’ve found that public attention helps these cases. Often it’s very difficult to get prosecution to shift from punishment to protection. The justice system has a myopic view of reality and it takes public pressure to force officials to look up and stop errant processes. This is where the media can be the difference in a victim’s life.

I often ask journalists and film makers, “Why did you get into this field?” They often say something like, “changing the world, or giving a voice to the stories that need to be told.”

Covering the story of a prosecuted trafficking victims is, in my opinion, the very reason many people chose their careers. To make a positive difference on individuals and society, protecting one victim often leads to the protection future victims. To see that society, the judicial system and bureaucrats see their roles in a story and the impact each has.

 What part of this issue needs to be told?

I’ve seen stories since 2004 about the crying victim, sex trafficking of children, and a simplified version of human trafficking using images of locks and keys, bars, and handcuffs.

In my experience, the story we see everyday are not locks, keys, or bars. Those images are often why victims are not identified. Law enforcement and the community are looking for guns to the head, locked rooms and chains. What we see is more powerful than any locking device but invisible to the uninformed.

The locking device of modern slavery, or human trafficking, is the absolute inescapable tool of grooming and psychological coercion.

The example I use when speaking and training is that if you have a lock or gun all the victim needs to do is escape those and then he/she can run free screaming for help. The bad guys know this and use a different approach. They target the victim, find the weakness, exploit it and then induce trauma.

While the victim is in trauma they re-write that victim’s reality and history, and add-on sleep deprivation and fear to their tactics. There’s no need for bars or locks, the victim will not escape no matter the opportunity placed in front of them, because the psychological coercion works 24/7, anywhere, in front of anyone. This is the most difficult part of rescuing a victim or getting a person recognized as a victim. It’s a process that works on everyone, any time and anywhere.

Also, as a society, when we see horrible acts that are out of our ability to control or understand, we resort to blaming the victim. This allows us to feel safer and justifying that this will not happen to us or our loved ones. We create a clear conscience to move forward rather than stopping to help in this impossible situation. It’s a needed survival tool for society because if we didn’t have it we would be paralyzed. I’ve seen this tear families apart and have held the hands of grieving parents who are shunned by law enforcement, society, and even family, while they are screaming for help for their loved one.

I’m dealing with more U.S. citizen adults targeted while attending college, which seems to be occurring more often in the last 4-5 years. These types of cases need attention as any family sending their beloved child to college will tell you.

Forced labor is a large part of the issue of trafficking. I see domestic servants in the clutches of very wealthy and respected families, performers, laborers, restaurant workers, magazine sellers, religious groups, and other schemes that are nothing more than cons using forced labor disguised as opportunity for the victims and the purchasers of cheap labor products.

How can I help with your media project?

Laster Global Consulting can help make your projects become reality. My team has experience both in front of and behind the camera.  Our contacts and access to law enforcement, survivor victims, and other key people is based on 12 years of working directly in the field and fostering trusted relationships.

We’ve worked with national and international media and film producers to create compelling stories about human trafficking. We are available to make your project go smoother, or fill in gaps that are often impossible to surmount without the help of an experienced professional team.

Refer to the Media Page for past and ongoing media projects.

For more information about how to hire Laster Global Consulting please contact:

ImaginePublicity

Tel: 843-808-0859

Email: contact@imaginepublicity.com

Autism Speaks: Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin (photo/Wikipedia)

I was so fortunate to be able to attend a lecture from Temple Grandin. She is an autistic person who has achieved much and overcame obstacles that were turned into assets. She has an HBO movie about her life, she revolutionized the slaughter industry to be more humane and efficient, she also has helped parents and teachers of “different thinkers” to understand the potential and worth of all minds, and she is a Professor in the Department of Animal Science at Colorado State University.

It is not lost on my observations that a person with a disorder that is known for lack of communication, language and social connection has drawn a standing room only crowd, has achieved a PhD, and is about to speak to a very large and eagerly waiting live audience. This shows me, yet again, that absolutely anything is possible.

It takes passion, some luck, and guidance along the way. Many people were instrumental in Grandin’s success, including Grandin. Then I defaulted back to my perspective of human trafficking. What if a rising star, full of potential like Grandin, had been groomed and recruited by traffickers? What would the world have lost and how lucrative would she have been for the traffickers? She would be safe for them because she would be unlikely to speak or be believed, and would probably be very easy to isolate from society.

I shudder and return to reality as she enters the stage.  A large crowd applauds, she is introduced and starts off immediately with a comment that makes everyone laugh. She is jovial, well spoken, and a joy to listen to, I would even say entertaining as she points out the obvious observations that many people miss or might be timid to say aloud. She lists the things that helped her to achieve in her life journey and I realize that she is also listing the things that might help prevent victims from being groomed by traffickers.

Reaching and Teaching Life Lessons

She spoke of her family teaching manners.  Even though she was autistic she was not to scream, throw fits or cause a scene. She talks about one time licking an ice cream cone like a dog, it was taken away and she was told she must eat it correctly. She wanted that ice cream cone so she never forgot that lesson. So simple, yet in the time of the millennials that simple teachable moment might be actually controversial. She also spoke about being engaged. It didn’t matter if she didn’t want to become social, it was expected.

Her example was of a community movie night, she said, “I was expected to attend. The choice was you can run the projector or sit in the audience but you WILL attend.” Again, another moment that might be viewed as old fashioned. I was at an recent event where one child wanted to attend and the other did not. The one that did not was taken by a parent to wait in the car rather than attending. I remembered my grandmother and thought, oh my, she would have not handled it that way, and giggled at the thought. The point is that some of the 50’s era parenting had a lot of value in creating successful adults.

Grandin also spoke about the many jobs she had starting at a young age and how each of them added to her skill set and the experiences are still with her in her career today. She spoke of Millennials not having real work experience, learning to be on time, finishing a job or task, and doing tasks they do not want to do. She was very funny and very on point about the damage caused by bullying, labels, lack of real world experience, and coddling.

Targets of Trafficking

When I default back into my world of human trafficking while thinking about Grandin’s comments about all the kids/adults she sees “on the Spectrum” ( having traits of Asperger’s, Autism or some other different way of processing information) and her worry for where they will wind up again, I shudder. She spoke about all the people on the spectrum in Silicon Valley working at Google, Apple, etc.  I think to cases that I am working on now and she is correct. Many of the victims are “geek” types that have been targeted by traffickers. I think of several cases we are working on and wonder how many more there are that no one knows about.

MSNBC Sex Slaves: Texas RescueWhile filming my episode of MSNBC’s Sex Slaves: Texas Rescue we met one clearly disabled victim being prostituted using her small size to market her as a childlike image for the buyers. She was clearly mentally deficient and could not process the information that we were there to help her, she just couldn’t understand such a concept. We had another case where the victim  was totally brilliant in drawing and design, yet someone was prostituting her. We made three contacts with her and each time she was so excited about design, yet we couldn’t get help to her. On another case a young man who was intellectually brilliant, however, a social outcast at school, was targeted by traffickers and when warning his parents about this his father said, “well, at least he has friends now. We are so happy for him.”

It makes me wonder how right Grandin is and what happens to the “different thinkers.” We all need to become teachers, mentors, and helpers that build their social ties and make them aware of their abilities and worth to society. Because, if we don’t, predators will likely define their worth for them and then traffickers benefit and civil society loses. It matters to all of us.

I am grateful for Grandin’s life journey and all she has to offer. I can see the thousands, if not millions, of people and animals she had affected in positive ways and I wonder who else we have missed because their minds and souls were stolen by traffickers.

It’s up to us, all of civil society, to make our communities safe for victims (and different thinkers) and hostile to traffickers.

Remember Grandin’s quote “Nature is cruel but we don’t have to be.”

To experience Temple Grandin watch the video of her 2010 TED Talk and visit her website TempleGrandin.Com:

 

Dottie Laster, human trafficking

Dottie Laster is affiliated with the non-profit Bernardo Kohler Center where she is accredited to practice immigration law. She created their Save One Soul human trafficking outreach.

As a weekly Co-Host on the nationally syndicated radio show, The Roth Show, Laster presents discussion and guests who speak out about a variety of controversial subjects surrounding the abolishment of human trafficking and corresponding crimes.

Dottie Laster is featured in the documentary on sex trafficking in Latin bars and cantinas, The Cantinera, and her direct rescue work is the subject of the MSNBC Documentary, Sex Slaves: Texas Rescue. She is the recipient of several human rights awards and has been featured in numerous publications including recent issues of Texas Monthly, Town Hall, and MORE Magazine.

Dottie Laster is the CEO of Laster Global Consulting which has consulted in several high-profile trafficking cases, and has been directly and indirectly responsible for the rescue and restoration of hundreds of trafficking victims. Her strong multi-disciplinary team has an established track record and provide project development, consultancy, and training resources in domestic and international trafficking.

To book trainings in your community and become involved in making your area safe for victims and their families, and hostile to traffickers, contact ImaginePublicity at 843-808-0859 or email contact@imaginepublicity.com