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911 texting helps save 17-year-old human trafficking victim

Posted at 7:27 PM, May 31, 2024

CASITAS SPRINGS, VENTURA COUNTY, California (KABC) -- The Ventura County Sheriff's Office was able to rescue a human trafficking victim earlier this month using a little known feature of its 911 system: texts.

Sheriff's officials say a 17-year-old girl was being held against her will in the remote rural community of Casitas Springs.

"Countrywide, we are dealing with human trafficking, and we are not immune to it in Ventura County," said Sheriff Jim Fryhoff.

After receiving a text from the girl around 3 a.m. on May 9, dispatchers were able to guide deputies to her location within minutes.

The girl, who was trafficked from her home in Mexico two months prior, was evaluated and transferred to Ventura County Child Family Services.

Deputies also arrested 31-year-old Gerardo Cruz, who is now facing a slew of charges including rape and human trafficking.

Authorities say the text from the girl demonstrated the importance of its 911 texting option. The girl, who doesn't speak English, texted in Spanish, which the system quickly translated into English for the dispatcher.

When the dispatcher responded to her, that message was translated into Spanish automatically.

"It will translate back into that same language so the caller will only see it in the language they sent it," said Commander Eric Buschow of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, who adds the lack of speaking can be vital in certain cases. "A text message allows for that silent communication. If you have a situation where someone has a prowler at their house ... you can send a text message and give updates and things like that without alerting somebody to your presence."

The Ventura County Sheriff's dispatch center has been set up to receive emergency texts since 2019.