SAN ANTONIO - – At home, online, disconnected with free time, people are more vulnerable to traffickers than ever before.
Local organizations that help trafficked youth say teens and parents need to be on the lookout for online predators who are constantly grooming their next victims.
The pandemic has forced many kids to move both their school and social lives online and predators are noticing.
“It does not matter if you come from a broken home or not a broken home, or wealth, or not wealth,” said Tara Roussett, the CEO of SJRC Texas, formerly St. Jude’s Ranch for Children.
SJRC houses and cares for at-risk foster youth and trafficking survivors.
“We unfortunately remain very steady with the clients who come in who have been trafficked. On average, we take care of about 10 or so every single day and then we have some with their babies,” Roussett said.
She said most of them were at some point pursued online.
“The internet is really used as an initial grooming tool for the pimps and the johns to find their victim. They’re looking for people talking about their sad lives, talking about how much they hate their parents. Then because they’re manipulators, they’re going to go in and offer those things,” she explained.
Victims often believe the trafficker is their boyfriend or girlfriend. That leads to meeting in-person, and eventually emotional and sexual control.
“To the parents, if your young person in your home, let’s say they’re going to meet their friend John, you need to ask, who is John? Does he go to your school? What grade is he in?” Roussett said.
It’s hard for parents already busy with work, childcare, and even teaching, but Roussett said taking the time to check in is crucial.
“I have two teenagers, so I live this every single day. You have to have open communication. If there’s anything that happens that they’re not comfortable with on the computer, they need to know they can tell their parent without getting in trouble. They usually don’t say anything because they think they’re going to get in trouble,” she said.
Roussett also said, though an unpopular rule, parents should always have their kids’ passwords.
“What I tell my kids and what we tell our kids with our organization, ‘It’s not that we don’t trust you. We don’t trust the people out there, so we need your passwords,’” she said.
Roussett also says the strongest messages need to be sent to people other than parents and children.
“We need to make a ploy to the people that are buying sex. There’s not a market if you’re not buying it. So people need to realize that, and stop!” she said.
The whole month of January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Organizations like SJRC Texas will be using that platform to teach people what red flags to look for and what to do if you think someone is being trafficked.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline website lists who is most vulnerable and what signs you should look out for to gauge if someone is in trouble.
If you are being trafficked or suspect someone is being groomed or trafficked, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888 or text 233733.