Information & Prevention
- Person seems overly fearful, submissive, tense, or paranoid.
- Person is deferring to another person before giving information.
- Person has physical injuries or branding such as name tattoos on face or chest, tattoos about money and sex, or pimp phrases.
- Clothing is inappropriately sexual or inappropriate for weather.
- Minor is unaccompanied at night or falters in giving an explanation of who they are with and what they are doing.
- Identification documents are held by another.
- Person works long or excessive hours or is always available “on demand.”
- Overly sexual for age or situation.
- Multiple phones or social media accounts.
- Signs of unusual wealth without explanation—new jewelry, shoes, phones without any known form of income.
- Person lives in a “massage” business or is not free to come and go.
- Worker is not free to leave premises.
- Worker lives at the business.
- Worker is transported to the location by the owner or manager and all workers arrive and leave at the same time.
- Worker has excessively long and/or unusual hours or is always available on demand.
- Worker owes a large debt that is continually increasing and cannot be paid off.
- Workplace has high security features such as opaque windows, bars, locks outside doors.
- Worker seems to be deferring to another person before giving information, avoids eye contact, or isn’t allowed to speak.
- Goods or services are priced below general market rates.
- Someone else controls the worker’s identification documents and finances.
Human Trafficking Statistics:
- 987 human trafficking cases were reported in Texas in 2020
- The Office of the Attorney General of Texas reports 234,000 victims of labor trafficking and 79,000 victims of youth and minor sex trafficking in Texas at any given time
- Traffickers can look like anyone and don’t fit one stereotype. Traffickers can be family members, peers, romantic partners, educators, employers, community leaders, and clergy.
- Sometimes youth continue going to school, living at home, and participating in extracurricular activities – even while they are being trafficked.
- 88% of trafficking victims say they interacted with a professional who missed the chance to identify and help them
- At least 20% of the US national trafficking victims travel through Texas at some point
Preventing Human Trafficking:
By learning to recognize and report suspected trafficking, you can help end trafficking in Texas.
TXDOT, The Office of the Texas Governor, and the Office of the Attorney General of Texas have video and print education pieces:
Child Sex Trafficking Team of the Office of the Texas Governor, Greg Abbott
Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children
Often referred to as Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC), Child Trafficking, or Domestic Minors Sex Trafficking (DMST), CSEC is any sexual act involving a child in exchange for something of value, i.e. money, food, clothing, shelter, etc.
Who is at Risk?
Studies show that a large majority of survivors of sex trafficking have a history of child abuse. Without intervention and therapy, a child that has suffered from abuse will struggle with the vulnerabilities that a trafficker will look for:
- Viewing themselves as a sexual object
- Linking love with sex
- Linking sex with rewards
- Feeling unloved
- Feeling unsafe or out of control in their own life
- Feeling like they don’t belong
Other Risk Factors for CSEC Include:
- Substance abuse
- Low self-esteem
- Mental health issues
- Gang involvement
- Social networks
- Bus stations
- Foster homes or Residential Treatment Centers (RTCs)
- Homeless shelters
- Juvenile detention facilities
Children are lured with the promise of protection, love, adventure, home, family, money, or opportunity. Pimps/traffickers will then use threats, violence, intimidation, and fear in order to maintain control and compliance of the victim.
Signs a Child is possibly being Commercially Exploited:
- Gifts from unknown source
- Few or no personal possessions or displaying new expensive clothes, accessories, or shoes
- Motel room keys
- Fake IDs
- Going by a new nickname
- Barcode or ownership tattoos
- Drug use
- Lies about age
- Sudden shift in behavior, dress, friend group, or belongings
- High number of sex partners for their age or talking about sexual situations beyond age-group norms
- Frequently truant
- Frequent runaway
- Hungry, malnourished, or inadequately dressed for the weather
- Has a “boyfriend” who is significantly older
- Overly tired in class or sleeping a lot during the day
What You Can Do:
- Teach your child about CSEC so they can understand what it is and avoid dangerous situations
- If you see something suspicious, report it to the National Trafficking Hotline 1.888.373.7888, Department of Family and Protective Services 1.800.252.5400, or local law enforcement
- Mentor a child: Many survivors of trafficking have expressed that as unfortunate as the situation was, the most consistent relationship they ever had growing up was with their pimp and the pimp’s family. Find ways in your community of providing intervention or becoming a mentor to an at-risk child.
- Support your local Children’s Advocacy Center: Most centers provide therapy for a victim of abuse. This helps mitigate the vulnerabilities of a formerly abused youth as discussed above. Help those who are already helping the children who are most vulnerable.
What We Are Doing:
- C3ST (Collin County Child Sex Trafficking) Team: This team was established in 2018 as a community effort to address the issue of child sexual exploitation in Collin County. Facilitated by Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County, the team’s vision is to eradicate child sexual exploitation from our community. The primary goal of C3ST is to prevent, protect, and provide services to identified and at-risk youth who have been impacted by child sexual exploitation; empowering them to move forward with their lives in a positive direction.
Conversations With Kids
Talking to children about abuse can feel daunting, but it is the single most important step you can take to protect your children from abuse. It not only provides them with information they need to keep themselves safe, it also promotes healthy development, improves self-esteem, and fosters a positive relationship between you and your child.
- Talk to your child about their body. Teach them the correct name for body parts, and which parts are considered private that others should not touch or see except when appropriate, such as a parent helping with hygiene or at a doctor’s appointment with a parent in the room. Ensure even in these situations though that your child understands they should speak up if anything makes them uncomfortable.
- Talk to your child about boundaries. Children need to know that their body is their own and they have the right to say no when they don’t want to be touched. This includes the right to say no to hugs or kisses from family members. Explain that it is not okay for others to touch your child’s private areas or for someone to ask your child to touch their private areas.
- Talk to your child about what to do. Teach your child to say no, to go to a safe place, and to tell a trusted adult if something happens. Explain that sometimes even people we think we can trust, such as family members, friends, or older children, abuse children.
- Talk to your child about secrets. People who abuse children often ask them to keep secrets. Either teach your children to never keep secrets and instead call them surprises, or be very clear in the difference in good and bad secrets (good secrets are not telling Grandma what her Christmas gift is ahead of time, bad secrets are anything someone would ask them to keep from their parents or caregivers).
- Explain to your children what disclosing means. Make sure they know that they can always tell you or another trusted adult if something happens that makes them uncomfortable. Tell them to IMMEDIATELY tell someone if anyone tries to touch their private areas or engage in any inappropriate activity.
- Start these conversations young! Even very young children can be abused. Starting these conversations early, using terminology appropriate for their development level, is key to ensuring their safety.
- Encourage open communication. Speak to your child in a way that is warm, open, and supportive.
- Help them identify trusted adults. A trusted adult is someone whose words and actions make your child feel safe. They listen when your child has a problem or question, and they respect their body and personal space. This can be parents, teachers, or coaches – anyone who loves and respects your child. Helping your child to identify who those people are to them makes it easier if they have something to disclose.
Source: Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas
In Texas, every adult is a mandated reporter and obligated by law to report suspected child abuse. If you suspect a child is in immediate danger, call 911. For other cases, call the abuse and neglect hotline at (800) 252-5400.
If a child outcries:
- Remain calm
- Believe the child
- Allow the child to talk
- Show interest and concern
- Reassure and support the child’s feelings
- Take action. It could save a child’s life.
- Panic or overreact
- Press the child to talk
- Promise anything you can’t control
- Confront the offender
- Blame or minimize the child’s feelings
- Overwhelm the child with questions
Source: Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas
Texas law does not state at what age a child is old enough to be left home alone. So how do you know when your children are mature enough to stay home alone?
- How old, emotionally mature, and capable is your child?
- What is the layout and safety of the home, play area, or other setting?
- What are the hazards and risks in the neighborhood?
- What is your child’s ability to respond to illness, fire, weather, or other types of emergencies?
- Does your child have a mental, physical, or medical disability?
- How many children are being left unsupervised?
- Do they know where you are?
- Can they contact you or other responsible adults?
- How long and how often is the child (or children) left alone?
Questions provided by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
If you decide your child is old enough and mature enough to be left alone, consider some of the following:
- Set rules for your child to follow while you are away. These could include setting the alarm, not opening the door to anyone, and not cooking anything other than in the microwave. These rules could also outline how much screen time, if any, they are allowed while out and whether friends are allowed to come over.
- Practice scenarios with them for while you’re out. Ask them to tell you what they should do if someone comes to the door, if someone in the house gets hurt, or even if there is a fire. Ensure your child is ready to take care of any emergencies that could arise.
- Be clear on timing. Let your child know how long you will be gone and where you are going, and stick to the plan.
- Check in regularly, especially if you will be out for a longer period of time.
- Make sure dangerous objects are locked away. Even the most prepared, rule following children may not know how to handle a situation with dangerous objects such as guns or sharp knives. Remove them from the equation by locking them away.
- Start small – a walk around the block or a quick trip to the closest grocery store for 2-3 items. See how your child handles the 15 to 20 minutes alone. Ask if they felt comfortable and if they had any concerns. Gradually build to longer periods of time.
- Make sure your child has a way to reach out for help, either a landline or a cell phone, and that they have your number and emergency contacts in an easy to find location.
Five Simple Tips to Keep Children Safe Online
- Never give out personal information, including phone number, address, information on your school, passwords, trip plans, or current location.
- Talk to a trusted adult if you feel uncomfortable with something you see on the internet, or feel uncomfortable with something someone sent or said to you online.
- Don’t say or send anything you wouldn’t want your mom or grandma to see. Once you press “send” or “post”, you can’t take it back, so be polite and respectful online, and respect yourself online as well.
- NEVER arrange to meet someone in person you met online. People can pretend to be anyone online. Just because they say they are your age doesn’t mean they are. Do you know how to block or report someone on your most-used apps?
- Use nicknames or user names online. This could help prevent revealing too much information about yourself. Review your user names and nicknames. Do they reveal anything like your last name or birth date? Consider changing them to something less personal.
In Texas, 98% of children who are sexually abused are victimized by someone their family knows and trusts. It’s important to know the facts about offenders in order to protect your children.
Concerning adult behaviors:
- Refuses to let a child set their own limits, particularly when it comes to touch and physical proximity
- Spends significant time with children and shows little interest in spending time with peers
- Treats children like peers, sharing personal or private information with them or allowing them to get away with inappropriate behaviors
- Insists on spending uninterrupted time alone with a child
- Encourages a child to keep secrets
Perpetrators of child abuse are patient. They spend a significant amount of time “grooming” a child, and often their family, before attempting abuse. Perpetrators find ways to be alone with a child and pay attention to what the child likes and dislikes. Over the course of weeks, months, or even years, a perpetrator will gain the trust of a child and their family. They may “test” children first with smaller, seemingly harmless activities, such as kisses and back rubs, to see if a child will disclose.
Beyond educating your children, the most important thing you can do to protect them is minimize or eliminate the amount of one-on-one time they spend with other adults or older children. Roughly 1/3 of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by an older child, so it’s equally important to be vigilant there.
Choosing Safe Environments
Now that you’ve educated your child on body safety, it’s important to screen their outside environments, whether school, after school activities, or summer camps, for safety. Some important questions to help screen an environment:
- Does the environment have policies in place to minimize the risk of sexual abuse?
- Are criminal background checks, including the sex offender’s registry, performed on all employees?
- What training do staff members receive on child sexual abuse?
For overnight environments, like summer camp, consider the following questions as well:
- How are children made aware of what to do if they feel unsafe?
- Are at least two adults assigned to sleep in each room/ cabin with children?
- If there are varying age groups, how does the environment monitor the interactions of older and younger children?
Sleepovers and slumber parties have long been a hallmark of childhood in America. Deciding when your child is old enough for a sleepover and whether that home environment is safe for your child can be a difficult decision for many parents. Below are some questions that will help your family as you navigate these decisions.
- What do I feel would make my child “ready” for a sleepover? Consider your child’s maturity level and previous experiences with being separated from his/ her parents.
- How well do I know this family? Ideally, this is a family you’ve interacted with on multiple occasions and are comfortable with them caring for your child. If not, consider suggesting some family activities first, or even a coffee date to get a chance to chat with the parents.
- What kind of adult supervision will there be? Make sure that, unless children are old enough to be home alone and you’re comfortable with that as well, there will be adequate adult supervision the entire time. Ask what other adults or adolescents outside their family will also be present during the sleepover.
- What is their household like? Will your child be comfortable at their home? Where will the children be sleeping? Do you feel the layout is conducive to a safe and supervised environment?
- Can I talk with the parents about my concerns or needs? If you don’t feel comfortable with this, consider it may be a sign you don’t know this family well enough yet for sleepovers. If you can’t comfortably voice your concerns, why would your child feel comfortable voicing theirs?
- What are my “hard and fast” rules? Ensure there will be no one-on-one situations under any circumstances, and clearly communicate this to the parents and your child. If you have rules regarding movies, ensure those are communicated. With older children, ask questions regarding drinking or going out. Discuss with your child what to do if the original plans change.
- What safety and comfort contingencies can I put in place? Think about different scenarios your child could encounter that are different from your own home. Is your child aware of pool safety and gun safety rules? Are these factors to consider in this home? Especially with younger children, discuss what they might do if they got scared in the middle of the night. It’s worth considering sending your child with a cell phone, even if they don’t normally carry one, so they can easily get in touch with you.
- What check in points can I establish? Checking in routinely with your child via text or phone call is a great way to ensure they are feeling happy and secure at the sleepover. It also gives them an easy out if they are no longer comfortable but have not felt secure to ask the host parents if they can call home.
Teaching consent is an important part of educating your child about sexual health. They learn they have autonomy over their own body, and they also learn to respect the autonomy of others.
- Permission is important. Asking and granting permission is important, particularly when it comes to physical touch. We already teach our children to ask permission for so many things (getting a snack, borrowing a toy), so adding in physical touch is an easy way to teach them consent from a young age.
- They can change their mind. When your child initially says “yes” to something and later changes their mind to “no”, respect that shift. Their experience, emotions, and fears have led them to change their mind, and teaching them that you respect their change and that others should as well is important.
- Allow them to say no to physical affection. If your child doesn’t want hugs or kisses from a family member or friend, allow them to say no and maintain autonomy over their own body. This allows them to give and receive physical affection on their own terms.
- Ask for their consent. When you ask before doing small things, for example, “Can I hold your hand?” you show them by example that they have the right to choose who touches them.
- Practice in front of them. Model consent for them. Listen when someone says “no” to touches, ask others for permission to touch them before doing so. When your children see you practicing consent, they will model it.
Source: Defend Innocence