SAN ANTONIO – Some children choose to open up about serious issues with youth pastors over parents or other family members.
That’s why its crucial that those youth leaders learn how to spot signs of child sex trafficking and how to address them.
“Evil, just horrible. I have six kids and five grandkids, and just to think about what they’re up against in today’s society it just breaks my heart,” said Cibolo Creek Community Church youth group volunteer Rick Scheel.
Scheel became emotional talking about what he learned in an “eye-opening” youth pastor training session on child trafficking.
The training was hosted by Ransomed Life, an organization serving victims and educating the public on prevention.
Ransomed Life brought in experts like NextTalk founder and author Mandy Majors, who teaches parents about how to raise children in a digital world.
Bexar County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Allovio was another expert leading the training. He is retired FBI and on the FBI task force for trafficking.
“I think the thing that was really eye opening for me was the digital impact and how these kids are being approached through Snapchat, through Instagram. The perpetrators portray themselves as another youth, and pretty soon they’re sucked into a conversation they can’t get out of,” Scheel said.
He learned about how traffickers groom their child victims by first making them feel special or convincing them they’re in a relationship before controlling them for commercial sex.
“Every little girl wants to know she’s beautiful and accepted for who she is, and somebody bringing that to her through online digital media is giving her exactly what she wants. And it’s not just girls. It’s little boys, too,” Scheel said.
Experts and now ministry leaders are teaching parents that it’s OK to wait to give a child a cellphone, check what’s on their phone, and even take away their phone.
“Never allow a child to have a phone in their bedroom at night. The phone should get locked up. There’s no one they need to talk to at 2 in the morning,” Scheel said.
He and other youth ministry leaders learned to look for red flags.
“Receiving packages from unannounced people, them having new friends that you don’t know, they’re depressed, feels like they’re hiding something. Those are signs, and we need to be aware of that and engage that child, engage their parents and find out if something’s going on,” he said.
Experts said engaging in the right way is crucial.
“Do you just do like most parents? Do you just freak out? You can’t do that,” he said. “Children need to have a safe place to go no matter what to bring any situation and know that they’re not going to get in trouble.”
Scheel hopes other youth pastors will take advantage of future trainings, saying he truly believes it will save lives.
“If we don’t get in front of it it’s going to continue to happen because the perpetrators out there, they’re networked, they are engaged, they’re organized,” he said.
Anyone with questions or concerns can turn to Ransomed Life for guidance by checking out their website’s Knowledge Hub or calling 210-514-4384.
Victims or potential victims can always call the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office non-emergency number at 210-335-6000 if they’re not in immediate danger. Anyone in immediate danger should call 911.
It’s also important to report trafficking or potential trafficking to the National Trafficking Hotline 888-373-7888.
Youth pastors interested in these trainings or organizations that want Ransomed Life to make a presentation at their workplace, school, etc. can call or visit the website.
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