The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children defines child sex trafficking as: the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining or advertising of a minor child for the purpose of a commercial sex act, which involves the exchange of anything of value — such as money, drugs or a place to stay — for sexual activity.
Child sex trafficking is a something many of us know very little about. What we do know is often learned from national or global platforms relating to children and families being trafficked in other countries or news stories about wealthy billionaires preying on young girls both here in the U.S. and abroad. Unfortunately, it often goes unseen when it’s happening in rural communities because it can look different than what is portrayed in the global and national media campaigns. We see the ad campaigns depicting young girls hanging around truck stops or being under the control of her trafficker, however, in rural communities it is more likely to be a scenario such as a teenager “selling” their nude pictures online or a parent or child being threatened with deportation by the abuser if they report the abuse or try to leave. It can also be a caregiver allowing a perpetrator open access to their child in exchange for drugs or rent money. No matter the form it takes, it is important to remember that at the core of child sex trafficking is the abuse of innocent children.
Child abuse happens every day, here in our own local community. It is not always visible through marks and bruises. Child abuse takes many forms including physical, sexual and emotional abuse, witnessing violence (including domestic violence), or through neglect and maltreatment. Child abuse can be witnessed or reasonably suspected without being seen. Most of the children we serve at The Children’s Advocacy Center are victims of sexual or physical abuse, but we also see children who face abuse by growing up in homes where domestic violence is constantly present, and the children are living in a heightened state of fear and anxiousness. We meet children who are growing up in environments where the sale and use of illicit and prescription drugs is dominant and a child’s needs are simply not met. We meet children whose sexual abuse by a sibling, family member or friend is not recognized as abuse and is allowed to continue. And sadly, we hear the justifications for some adults not reporting abuse as “they are just kids,” “I don’t want to ruin someone’s life,” “They lie about everything so I’m sure they’re lying about this” or “That only happens in those families not ours.”
It’s wonderful to see so many in our community concerned about the welfare of children and post #savethechildren/#saveourchildren to Facebook pages, Instagram feeds, and on Twitter spreading awareness about the horrible things occurring to children in the world on a global and national level. Now we challenge you to see the abuse that is happening right here in our community.
Last year, the CAC served over 220 children from Lamar and Red River counties. For 2020, we have already served over 210 children, which is over a 40% increase from 2019.
Children come through the CAC as a result of the child abuse reports made to either Child Protective Services Hotline or local law enforcement. Each report of child abuse is reviewed and investigated through a multidisciplinary approach that includes the District Attorney’s Office, local law enforcement, CPS, CAC, and local medical and mental health professionals with specialized training in the areas of trauma and abuse.
It is more likely during this pandemic that the struggles will be more visible, and the depth of the abuse will be more hidden. Lamar and Red River counties are strong communities that come together in times of need and tragedy. During this pandemic, we have all felt the need to support our local businesses and our local community. With this same concept, before we put our resources and efforts into agencies and movements that primarily operate on a global or national level, we should look to our neighbors and our own children in this community.
In Texas, it is mandatory for an adult to report suspected child abuse, but often what is right in front of you can be the hardest to see. It is especially important we come together as a community during this time. Across Texas, child abuse reports have dropped significantly. Those who are usually the first to report suspicions of abuse do not currently have the same level of daily interaction with children due to the pandemic (i.e., teachers, day care workers, school personnel, after-school providers, youth group leaders, etc.). Now, more than ever, we must depend on our community to recognize abuse when it happens and make the report.
As an individual wondering how you can help and what you can do, please start with your own community. Listen to your children and their friends and help us shed light on the child abuse happening here in our own community. Help make it easier for children to speak out about abuse so they can begin their path towards healing and harder for the community to turn away from it.