LUBBOCK, Texas — In just 2019 to 2020, the National Center for the Missing and Exploited Children found that reports of online enticement of children rose by 97 percent.
“This is a danger that all children are vulnerable to and a crime that is growing exponentially,” said West Texas Regional Administrator for the Governor’s Child Sex Trafficking Team, Veronica Lowenberg.
But for many of us, using the internet daily has become second nature, particularly for children using social media or gaming online.
“I don’t think parents realize what’s out there on social media and what their children actually have access to,” said Lt. Leath McClure with the Lubbock Police Department.
But human trafficking via the internet has become an increasing problem. Organizations across Texas and the country recognize that the internet is now one of the top methods human traffickers use to traffic children and try to raise awareness about the danger of the internet in a big way.
“It’s so easy for exploiters to take advantage of children online because they trust them and they think everything is OK,” said Lowenberg.
Back by local and state officials, a digital billboard on Frankford Ave. now sports the message of the ‘R.E.A.L Friends Don’t’ campaign. It’s a campaign aimed at educating children and parents on how to avoid online trafficking.
“Real friends don’t make me do things I don’t want to. Real friends don’t ask me to send them pictures,” said Lowenberg. “It’s the bad things that are out there that these children need to be aware of and understand that if someone is asking them to do something negative, they shouldn’t do it.”
Those at the launch today hope the billboard reminds families to talk to their children, reminds the community to report anything that seems suspicious and encourages folks to fight against human trafficking.
“We are not just going to idly sit by and watch this happen. We are going to continue to raise our voices, we are going to continue to get into action, we are going to get into the lane of justice and do something about it,” said Gloria Toti with Trinity Church.
Lubbock is now one of more than 70 cities across Texas to be part of this campaign. To learn more about the ‘R.E.A.L. Friends Don’t’ campaign, click here.