Natural Disasters Bring an Uptick in Victimization

Going through a hurricane whether you were directly impacted or not makes us all susceptible to victimization. Our youth are sadly at risk for a myriad of reasons – some may have been displaced, some may be suffering from anxiety over the situation in general or simply by watching the news, and others may feel unsafe. Perpetrators pray on those vulnerabilities. They may extend help by offering a safe place to stay, provide necessities like clothes and shoes, offer the person a job, lend an ear to listen, and can sometimes pose as a love interest. These things may sound helpful and can be if the giver has good intentions. If these offerings have strings attached and/or involves exploiting the person through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of forced labor, commercial sex, or both then it is considered human trafficking.
 
Here are some things you should know:
•    Victimization can start off online and can evolve into face to face.
•    Students can also be lured at school, home, or any public place.
•    Perpetrators can be fellow students, friends, family members, employers… really anyone, and it’s important to note that 91% of the time they are known to the victim.
•    13 is the average age of a human trafficking victim, this includes males and females
•    Many human trafficking victims are hidden in plain sight.

There are different types of human trafficking, including sex and labor trafficking. Knowing the signs will help you recognize potential human trafficking situations.

Signs for Sex Trafficking include:
•    Chronic runaway/homeless
•    Excess cash
•    Hotel keys/cards
•    Sexually explicit profiles on social media
•    Repeated absences  
•    Prepaid cell phones
•    Signs of branding (tattoo, scars)
•    Suspicious injuries
•    Broken teeth
•    Presence of an older boyfriend
•    Unable/unwilling to give local address or information on parents

Signs of Labor Trafficking include:
•    Expresses need to pay off debt
•    Works long hours with little or no payment
•    Cares for unrelated children
•    Concern for family’s safety
•    Living with employer

Anyone who has knowledge or reason to believe that a child is being abused or victimized in any way must report! This is our duty as Texans and not just a mandate for school and medical professionals. We all have a duty to report. Even if you are not certain, report! It’s better to err on the side of safety than to face penalties and possibly subject a child to further victimization.  Don’t fret over what type of crime is taking place, remember that some victims may not know that what is happening to them is human trafficking and that is what our criminal justice and legal system is for.  

You have 48 hours to report, failure to comply can result in the following punishment:
•    Class A misdemeanor - Imprisonment of up to 1 year and/or a fine of up to $4,000 or
•    State Jail Felony - Imprisonment of 180 days to 2 years and/or a fine up to $10,000

Who should you call to report?
•    FBI Innocence Lost Task Force – Houston Division 713-693-5000
•    DFPS – 1-800-252-5400
•    Crime Stoppers of Houston – Call our anonymous 24/7 Tip Line at 713-222-TIPS (8477) at any time to report any information you may have about human trafficking. You will remain 100% anonymous.

Awareness plays a critical role in the prevention of human trafficking, and Crime Stoppers of Houston offers community at large presentations, as well as school presentations for students, school staff and parents on human trafficking. To book a presentation, please email phollek@crime-stoppers.org.