January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and the Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County is using the opportunity to further a human trafficking prevention task force it created in collaboration with law enforcement agencies throughout the county.
The operation is called the C3ST (“Collin County Child Sex Trafficking”) Team, and it was established in 2018 to combat child sexual exploitation and trafficking in the area.
“We all came together to kind of brainstorm what we could do and put together a protocol to fight child trafficking,” said Susanne Arnold, the medical care coordinator of CACCC. Other parties in this task force include the Collin County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s office, in addition to various police departments and other community agencies.
Arnold said the protocols went into effect in December just in time for the 10th Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
Due to the fact that the task force’s protocol has only been in effect for one month, there is a deficiency of data on Collin County’s human trafficking presence, but Arnold contends that parents in the area need to be vigilant. “We don’t have [local human trafficking] data yet, as we are just now getting off the ground, but I can tell you that we see it in every part of our county, whether it’s rural or urban. It is in every single part of the county. I’ve got kiddos out of Prosper and Celina, Plano, Frisco, Allen, McKinney, Princeton, just everywhere.”
A 2016 report from the University of Texas’ Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault found that more than 300,000 victims of human trafficking were in Texas, giving it the second-highest trafficking presence in the United States behind California. Among this cohort of victims, 79,000 were sexually exploited minors.
“Be very aware of what’s going on around you,” said Arnold, who placed special emphasis on the fact that perpetrators of human trafficking often use social media to kidnap children. Other forums of recruitment include schools, malls, foster homes and juvenile detention facilities. According to the CACCC website, “children are lured with the promise of protection, love, adventure, home, family, money or opportunity. Pimps/traffickers will then use threats, violence, intimidation and fear in order to maintain control and compliance of the victim.”
Signs that a child may be sexually exploited include gifts from an unknown source, fake IDs, motel room keys, bar code or ownership tattoos, truancy, history as a runaway, drug use, a significantly older romantic partner and malnourishment, among other things.
Even amid an era of social isolation, Arnold warned that the COVID-19 pandemic may make children more vulnerable.
“COVID’s been really interesting, because we’ve seen a lot of things that have changed,” she said. “Because people are so isolated in some ways, teenagers, I think, are especially looking for more connection and outlet[s]. … Can I say that numbers have totally increased across the board? No, I cannot, because I don’t have that data, but I know it hasn’t stopped or slowed down.”
To report suspicious activity, call the National Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.