Arrest in Electra puts spotlight on human trafficking in Texoma

WICHITA FALLS, TX (KAUZ) - The discovery of human trafficking following a traffic stop in Texoma has local child advocates fighting harder than ever.

That arrest led to an Amarillo man facing charges of human trafficking in Wichita County after officers discovered teen girls staying at an Electra motel were being sold on a prostitution website.

Catherine Earley, a volunteer with the Texas Council of Child Welfare Boards, said incidents like this bring to light the fact that this epidemic is happening in our own backyard every single day.

"Every time somebody says it doesn't happen here I immediately pull up on my phone somebody who is being trafficked right this minute in our town," said Earley. "It absolutely happens in Wichita Falls every day."

A recent study conducted by the University of Texas shows the Lone Star state is a hub for human trafficking, ranking second in the nation. Texoma is also not far from the number one city in the country for this type of forced labor, Houston.

"Once you hear the information you can never forget it," said Earley. "So, I started offering the training through Texoma Child Abuse Prevention group so that everybody in the community can get more awareness."

Education Earley said can help prevent our children from falling victim.

"Children are easy targets, they are pretty vulnerable anyways," said Earley. "Traffickers take advantage of that vulnerability."

She said many children who are trafficked are not just snatched off the street. They are approached by someone they know.

"They're groomed by someone they meet online or in some cases even by someone they meet at school," said Earley.

She adds runaways and homeless teens are also easy prey. According to the non-profit Traffick 911, 1 out 3 are approached by a recruiter in the first 48 hours of being on the streets. However, situations like this are not always the case.

"There have been many instances where children were trafficked from their regular day-to-day lives," said Earley. "That may be the child's still attending school, still attending church youth group, but on the side, they're being trafficked by someone they met on the internet."

With school letting out for the summer she stresses the importance of monitoring kid's online activity because many times traffickers will meet children on the internet.

"And [they] approach it as a dating type relationship," said Earley. "They'll eventually convince the child to send an inappropriate picture," said Earley.

Traffickers then use the photo as leverage forcing the child to do something for them.

"Typically, that grows into a trafficking situation and at that point, the child feels trapped and can be trafficked right under our noses as parents," said Earley.

She said children should not friend anyone on their social media accounts that they do not know personally. However, even the names they recognize could be deceiving. Most Facebook users have received a second friend request from someone they have already approved as a friend, but that could be a red flag kids need to know about. Earley said mimic accounts are a big way recruiters reach out to minors.

Some indicators of human trafficking are appearing to be coached on what to say, signs of being denied food, water or sleep or having bruises in various stages of healing. Another is minors checking into hotels with older males and tattoos or branding.

Earley said it is important that everybody knows how to protect children, not just their own.

If you or someone you know needs help call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.

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