Houston is about to host one of the biggest sporting events in the world, and it's not only football fans who will descend upon the city for the Super Bowl. The frequency of domestic child sex trafficking greatly increases during any major event, and Houston is already one of the top cities for this deplorable crime.
But what can you do to help? Plenty, says Debi Tengler, the chief relations officer for Freedom Place. The groundbreaking rehabilitation center offers sex trafficking victims a safe place to recover using clinical and occupational therapy, giving its residents the chance to lead productive lives.
Here are five simple ways you can help fight domestic minor sex trafficking:
1. Know the ABCs
The ABC system is easy to remember: be Aware, Become engaged, Call when you suspect something. Tengler recalls a time when she and a colleague went for a late lunch in a little town north of Houston, and it was hard to ignore a situation that didn't feel right.
"Two people sat down at the table directly across from us in this empty Mexican restaurant, and what tipped us off was their behavior. The man was Caucasian and in his 70s, while the little girl looked to be Mayan or Aztec — she was tapping her leg nervously, wouldn't pull up to the table, wouldn't look the man in the eye, and she didn't eat. She was clearly scared to death. Those are all classic indicators of 'there may be a problem here.' "
If you were to encounter a similar situation, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with respondents who speak English, Spanish and 200 more languages.
2. Use technology
Your phone can be instrumental in preventing further victimization. The free mobile app TraffickCam takes user-submitted photos of hotel rooms and checks them against online advertisements, narrowing down where traffickers might be staying with their victims.
Also remember that your social media presence casts a wide net, so each time you see a post about a missing child, share it.
3. Make your voice heard
Don't be afraid to talk to your local police whenever you see them — they will let you know if something suspicious has been going on in your area, and if there is any way you can help. Sign petitions and talk to your legislators. "Let them know that this is important, and that you want them to know this is important," says Tengler.
4. Spread awareness
Now it's more necessary than ever to know who your children are friends with and where they are together. Don't be afraid to bring up the subject with your friends either, whether in small gatherings or large groups. Freedom Place will happily come speak to any and all groups, and can offer information and answer questions online and over the phone (281-572-2300).
Freedom Place regularly holds volunteer training sessions — the next is scheduled for March — but there are several other ways to show your support. Donations of time, money, and goods are always appreciated, but Tengler reinforces that the single most important thing a person can do to help stop minor sex trafficking is to acknowledge it. "We may have a heightened awareness during large events like the Super Bowl, but once it leaves, this doesn't end. We need to shine a light on the darkness. All of us can do our part."