KATY, Texas (FOX 26) - On Wednesday, those leading the fight against human trafficking in Texas and nationally were in Katy. The meeting focused primarily on the sexual exploitation of young girls.
Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX) convened a roundtable discussion that included representatives from local and state law enforcement, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Polaris Project, and persons directly affected by sex trafficking including Kelly Litvak.
Litvak from Katy says her child was targeted by a trafficker at school. That experience inspired her to create Childproof America, a non-profit to educate parents and others about human trafficking.
Andrea Sparks with the Governor Abbott’s Child Sex Trafficking Team says her office is learning that victims are lured by traffickers in school and online.
“People have a misperception of what trafficking is. They conflate it with smuggling or they think that you have to be abducted, or taken like the movie [Taken]. The vast majority of cases that we see and hear about from our law enforcement partners and from survivors are those where the victim actually believes that the trafficker is someone they love,” Sparks explained.
She adds her office has partnered with the University of Texas to estimate how the number of sex trafficking victims in the state. She says the current estimate is 79,000 victims under the age of 25.
During the meeting, McCaul highlighted some of the strides made against human trafficking but also mentioned areas where more work needs to be done particularly at the state legislature.
He and other speakers mentioned the importance of educating teachers, school administrators, nurses, law enforcement officials, and others who come in contact with possible victims.
Also, there was a focus on care of survivors of human trafficking. Brooke Crowder, Executive Director and Founder of The Refuge, spoke about the opening of a ranch for survivors that will open in August.
Governor Abbott’s Child Sex Trafficking Team is rolling out a screening tool to be used by state agency’s to help identify kids who are vulnerable to being trafficked or already being exploited.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office website has information on the types of human trafficking, real cases in Texas, and a list of red flags for minor and adult sex trafficking.
Those warning signs are the following:
- Changes in their school attendance habits, appearance, socio-economics, friend groups, interests, school activities, vocabulary, demeanor, attitude and sexual behavior
- Luxury items like manicures, designer clothing, purses, etc. without an explainable source of income
- Getting into trouble in the company of older teens or adults
- Sexually provocative clothing
- Tattoos or branding
- Refillable gift cards
- Multiple phone or social media accounts
- Lying about the existence of those accounts or refusing parent access to those accounts
- Sexually provocative pictures on the phone or online accounts
- Unexplained injuries: bruising, swelling, redness, cigarette burns
- Third-party control of schedule and social interaction
- Isolation from community, family or friends