FORT BEND COUNTY, Texas — Fort Bend County officials say 64 people were arrested in a human trafficking sweep in Fort Bend County.
At least five adults and two juveniles, who are U.S. citizens from the Fort Bend area, were rescued from sex trafficking.
The multi-agency sweep brought together the Fort Bend County Constable’s Office Precinct and the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office, along with the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance member law enforcement agencies.
Rania Mankarious, executive director of Crime Stoppers of Houston, said it’s a growing problem that’s impacting every county across Greater Houston in places no one expects.
“I hear it all the time,” Mankarious said. "W'e live in a nice neighborhood’ or ‘Our kids go to a private school. This is terrible that this is happening, but it doesn’t really affect us,' and I always come back and say, 'Well, does your child have a cell phone?' That right there is all it takes.”
Mankarious said a trafficker begins the grooming process by befriending the victim, either through social media or in person.
“They start introducing them to something that child would not normally do, and they call that the ‘intoxication phase,'" she said.
That phase usually involves drugs, alcohol or pornography.
“Then they start to use that to create some sort of division between the parents and then they start creating division between the friends," Mankarious said. "And then they start isolating the child from the family. What it looks like from the perspective of the parents and from peers is that the child is just experimenting with drugs or just started drinking.”
Parents are missing the signs, chalking it up to typical teenage behavior. Eventually that child may leave their home on their own accord and the "capitalization phase" starts instantly. By the time the victim realizes what’s happening, it’s too late.
“They are usually drugged or tattooed or branded. Photos are taken of them, they are sold online, and they are exploited," Mankarious said. "It’s very very hard for them to leave. It’s very very hard for parents to find them.”
Here are some tips that Mankarious suggests all parents consider:
- Check your child’s phone thoroughly and often
- Make sure location services are turned off
- Have open and honest conversations about trafficking. Make them understand that this is a reality, not just something they see on TV.
- If you have suspicious, reach out to law enforcement, counselors and their school
“You want all hands-on deck to help you and you want your child to know that you will be aggressive," Mankarious said. "You will stop at nothing to protect them.”
Mankarious warns traffickers look like everybody else and often use other children to recruit.
“The idea you have in your head...the Hollywood blockbuster film of what it means to be trafficked and taken, is not it all what reality is," she said. "The trafficker could be your neighbor. The trafficker could look just like you and the child they are targeting could be your own.”
For more information about sex trafficking, tap/click here.
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