Combating modern-day slavery takes unity
It is time for our families to tackle an escalating problem targeting our children in our own backyards — human trafficking. To some, trafficking seems like an industry relegated to foreign lands on different continents. Sadly, this is not the case. It has infested Texas and is growing.
This crime has affected more than 300,000 victims in Texas alone, most of whom are women and children. Human trafficking has turned into the most prolific criminal enterprise in the world, now on par with and projected to pass gunrunning and the drug trade. We are working together, a Texas congressman and a mother of a trafficking victim, to end this inhumane enterprise starting right here at home.
Kelly Litvak’s daughter was targeted at her suburban, top-ranking Texas high school. She is proof that this epidemic has infiltrated all of our communities and is no longer a far-off problem.
We need to take a proactive approach to end this modern-day slavery.
We need to take a proactive approach to end this exploitation of our children.
We cannot afford to be reactive anymore.
According to the FBI, the most effective way to halt human trafficking is through a multi-agency approach at federal, state, and local levels. But the fight is larger than the government. We must collaborate as a community. We must partner with the private sector and nonprofit organizations. It is a problem we must solve together.
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Houston partnered with Litvak, who founded Childproof America, other advocates, victims, nonprofit organizations and law enforcement to identify the gaps and needs in our ongoing fight against human trafficking. We each have a different, and very important, role to play. McCaul brought together 80 of these individuals in a roundtable discussion to formulate solutions to end trafficking. In particular, to discuss how McCaul’s bill — now a law — can successfully be implemented.
This law enables the Department of Homeland Security to form partnership, educate the public, and coordinate efforts to combat trafficking. It also improves intelligence sharing on multiple levels as part of DHS’s Blue Campaign. This is a step in the right direction toward coordinating a response and shifting to a proactive model in combating human trafficking. It helps focus resources on supporting victims and preventing traffickers from preying on our children. However, we have much more work to do to ensure we have adequate training across our towns, cities and states. During the roundtable, we discussed how to coordinate training between law enforcement and our community to effectively identify victims and stop trafficking.
Litvak shared her awareness as the founder of Childproof America, which is based in Katy, and told how her child was targeted while living her normal life as a teenager. It has become Litvak’s mission to empower parents by educating them about the six-step recruiting process groomers and traffickers use to lure unsuspecting victims. The steps are befriend, intoxicate, alienate, isolate, desensitize, and capitalize. Litvak is working to ensure every household in Texas knows the signs of human trafficking, and we are proud to be partners in this fight.
Education is absolutely critical. Parents must understand that victims come from good homes and parenting skills have very little to do with what makes a young person a target. “Spotters” are looking for young people who show signs of vulnerability due to a variety of reasons. It could be something as small as teenage acne, to a traumatic event such as sexual assault or divorce of parents. Once a target is identified, the very methodical grooming process begins, which can take months or years. Parents who are ill-equipped to identify the early onset of behaviors could be placing their children at risk for exploitation.
By engaging with parents and other community members, we can stop trafficking before it starts.
This is a problem that is larger than one agency or organization. Together we will continue to improve our response and prevention approach on every level. We can end human trafficking if we all work together.
Combating human trafficking transcends politics. It is a heinous problem, and we will continue to fight until our children are no longer victims of these predators.
McCaul represents Texas’ 10th Congressional District. Litvak is the founder of Childproof America, a Katy-based nonprofit organization safeguarding families against sex trafficking.
The op-ed originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle, here.