The sexual exploitation of children is a daily reality for members of the FBI Violent Crimes Against Children task force.
“Unfortunately, it’s a target-rich environment when you’re talking runaway kids,” said George Segura, a veteran San Antonio police vice detective and task force member.
Segura and FBI Special Agent Osvaldo Alaniz said they agree the Internet and social media have taken the problem to a new level.
“You don’t have to drive down the street anymore to find a prostitute. You can go online now. You can go to your smartphone,” Alaniz said.
Alaniz also said the latest trend are “selfies” courtesy of young people who believe only a select few will see them.
"Post it online, with a description of yourself and what you’re willing to do,” Alaniz said. “Typically, that’s what we encounter.”
They said sex traffickers, pimps and pedophiles prowl social networks and the Internet looking for what suits their needs.
“A lot of them have these fetishes, these perversions to be with young children,” Alaniz said.
Segura said runaways can be the most vulnerable, unaware their newfound freedom, access to drugs, and false sense of security come with a price.
“They’re really making money for the pimp. The pimp is protecting them only to the level that it serves him,” Segura said.
Alaniz said the challenge is identifying the methods being used to elude detection.
But they said the multiagency approach certainly helps. The FBI task force includes the Bexar County Sheriff's Office, SAPD, the offices of the U.S. attorney and district attorney, and juvenile authorities.
“The resources they have are different sometimes than the resources we have and vice versa,” said FBI Special Agent Rex Miller.
Otherwise, given the volume of cases including child pornographers, “It would be unworkable,” said Shawn Tobleman, BCSO investigator and task force member.
Tobleman said although San Antonio doesn’t have the huge caseloads of much larger cities, there is sizeable problem here which is why the agencies are pursuing the cases so aggressively.
They said the priority are the children themselves, dozens have been rescued.
“We have a very strong foundation and strong net that may be able to catch kids before they get to the point where they’re physically abused, where they are killed or somehow past the point of rescue," Segura said.