After a Lubbock man, Dimitrise Lyght was arrested Tuesday afternoon on a federal indictment for human trafficking of a child, EverythingLubbock.com asked South Plains organizations: how does sex trafficking impact children?
The Voice of Hope Lubbock, the Hub City’s rape crisis center works daily with victims of trafficking, explained Leslie Timmons with the center.
Timmons said that part of their mission at Voice of Hope is to make sure the public knows that sex trafficking isn’t just some far away problem, it happens each year around Lubbock.
“All of the people we’re working with right now are being sex trafficked right here out of Lubbock or in the surrounding rural communities,” she explained. In 2016 Voice of Hope assisted 55 victims of sex trafficking and of those 23 percent were children under the age of 18.
“These traffickers are targeting children starting at the age of 12,” Timmons explained
“Most of the adult victims we work with right now, most all of them started (in trafficking) as children, as minors,” Timmons added. “It’s because the demand for children and younger people is higher, and almost all of the adult victims that are still in the sex trafficking trade started at very very young age.”
Voice of Hope gets in touch with these victims though working with law enforcement and medical providers who call for help when they believe they’ve found a person who may be a victim of trafficking.
Social media has become a key place for traffickers to find children to lure in, Timmons said.
“This age group is very vulnerable,” she said of children and teens. “They share a lot of things on social media, they trust people–sometimes that they shouldn’t trust. So what traffickers look for is people who share that they’re in a fight with their boyfriend or mom, they look for this little spot where (kids) are vulnerable in their life. That’s where they they target and become friends with them on Facebook and try to establish things they have in common with these kids.”
Being compelled into prostitution places many burdens on children.
“They’ve been brain washed and manipulated into thinking they are just a commodity. They have a lot of medical needs, they don’t get a lot of medical attention, dental attention,” Timmons explained. “A lot of the ones we meet with, at first, they haven’t even eaten in several days.”
Voice of Hope provides these victims with counseling, therapy, and the resources to start a new life outside of trafficking. But it can be difficult for children to break away from the people trafficking them, or even acknowledge that they are victims.
Derek Danner, Interim Executive Director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of the South Plains, explained that his organization performs forensic interviews on children who are alleged victims of sex trafficking. In the past six months he says the Children’s Advocacy Center has performed six such interviews. Danner said that children who are involved in sex trafficking may not initially be forthright during interviews.
“They may not see themselves as a victim, they may be provided for (by their traffickers),” Danner said. “Let’s say they were a runaway, they were taken in provided food clothing maybe some gifts or things they didn’t have in the past. Kids can be manipulated, their minds are impressionable. They may look at the person as a boyfriend, so they may not be forthcoming with all the facts and what’s going on until they can get away from the situation and heal themselves.”
He noted that children in trafficking may also receive threats from their families or traffickers asking them not to speak.
Danner added that there are a few signs you can look out for if you believe a child in your life might be impacted by trafficking.
“See if your child maybe is coming home with clothing, expensive items that they wouldn’t have any way of getting unless someone was purchasing them,” he said. “You just need to pay attention, monitor their social media, put those blocks (on social media) if you can.”
Timmons added that community members should also be on alert for children who miss school often, drop out of school, lose interest in hobbies, or are involved in controlling relationships.
Both Timmons and Danner encourage the you to speak with authorities if you witness a child who may be in danger. They recommend contacting local law enforcement as well as the 24-hour Voice of Hope hotline ((806)-763-7273).
“If you see something, whether you’re staying at a hotel or on the street or wherever you might come across something that looks strange and looks like it involves a young child, it never hurts to notify the authorities and have them check out the situation,” Danner said.