Partners Against Child Trafficking holds awareness event in Copperas Cove

By BRITTANY FHOLER 

Cove Leader-Press 

 

Approximately 50 people attended a presentation by Partners Against Child Trafficking about raising awareness of child trafficking at the Holy Family Catholic Church Social Hall Saturday morning. 

This month is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. In 2019, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received 10,490 calls from victims and survivors, and a total of 11,500 human trafficking cases were reported that year. Of that total, 2,582 were minors. 

According to Partners Against Child Trafficking (PACT), Texas is ranked second in the nation for child sex trafficking, and researchers identified 79,000 youth and minor victims in the state alone. 

The presentation was sponsored by the Killeen/Temple Deanery Pro-life Ministry Co-op Initiative and featured a two-part presentation. 

The first portion of the presentation include Dana Brown, with Partners Against Child Trafficking, sharing information about what trafficking is and what PACT does to raise awareness. 

PACT is a non-profit organization founded by Rick Naylor in 2015. PACT raises awareness by holding events such as internet safety and self-defense, along with awareness training to give churches, civic organizations, and businesses tools to use to stop child trafficking. 

Brown is a member of the Pro-Life Committee of the Diocese of Austin and acts as a representative for PACT. He joined PACT three years ago and serves a liaison between PACT and local churches, including the Catholic Church, in Central Texas. 

Brown said he found about PACT and the horrors of child trafficking at a men’s group meeting at church.

“I was so appalled at what I heard that I felt that I had to get involved,” Brown said. 

Brown added that he wondered how he had raised his children in the Catholic Church without hearing about such a thing. 

“I won’t die a happy man until every parishioner and every pew in the Diocese is aware that this is going on,” Brown said. 

Brown shared some videos of PACT student ambassadors in Austin-area schools who have come up with a training course for students to take to learn how to recognize the signs of trafficking in their own schools and neighborhoods and among their peers. 

One of the key parts of PACT is the peer-to-peer aspect, with students sharing what they learn with their fellow students about how to recognize and stop trafficking when they see it. PACT offers a bilingual S.T.O.P training course on its website for $5 that certifies students ages 13 to 18 and uses interactive videos, graded learning checks and a visual arts project to help the students process and internalize the information about sex trafficking, including identifying grooming behaviors and how to respond when approaching a victim of trafficking. 

“What we’re desperately trying to do is raise awareness, and we’re trying to raise awareness through case studies and education,” Brown said. “This student led, student fed is really important because for the past three years, we’ve been talking to the parents, and I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for me if I had a 12- and 13-year-old daughter to say, ‘Hey, let’s gather around a kitchen table tonight. We’re going to talk about sex trafficking.’ It isn’t happening. We make parents aware, and it’s very difficult to get that message down and into the kids.” 

Brown added that it is easier for the message to spread from student to student because the students know more about what behavior is going on than the adults often do. 

Following the presentation by Brown, Det. Shaeffer with the Copperas Cove Police Department, also spoke to the crowd about what trafficking looks like in communities like Copperas Cove. 

He refuted the common notion that trafficking involves white vans that pluck children off the street. 

“That’s just not what we see,” Schaeffer said. 

He added that more than likely, trafficking will involve a pre-teen who talks to people on social media that she has never met and ends up invited out to another location. 

Schaeffer said that as a father of four children himself, none of his children are friends with anyone on social media that he has not personally met. 

“Children that are at risk, it doesn’t match what we think it is,” Schaeffer said. 

Schaeffer mentioned a case he worked, in which a middle school girl ran away from home and went to a house in another town, with a friend. She was returned home four days later and had been a victim of sex trafficking. 

Schaeffer said it often boils down to the child trafficking victim seeking attention and love outside of their home, often on social media. 

“There was no white van. There was no Russian mafia. There was a 13, 14, 15-year-old child and an absence of love,” Schaeffer said. “Sometimes love isn’t hugs. Sometimes love is ‘Where are you? Who are you with?’”

Another aspect of trafficking in Central Texas is where it occurs. It is not always brothels or massage parlors, but often vacant houses, Schaeffer said. It is also often thought that trafficking only means the person is forcefully moved from one location another but trafficking also includes the instances where a person is lured to a location and then returned home days later, he added. 

Another common misconception is who is affected by trafficking. It is not just girls or women. Boys or men can and are trafficked. It is not limited to a particular age group, either, Schaeffer said. The people doing the trafficking can be older or younger, and they target victims who are vulnerable in some way. 

Schaeffer said the first step of fighting trafficking is showing up to presentations like the one on Saturday. 

He encouraged people to say something and speak up if they see something that looks wrong. 

“If you see something that is wrong, do not trust someone else to take that action,” Schaeffer said.

People should call the police department, using the non-emergency number if it isn’t urgent. They shouldn’t confront anyone but rather take note of the license plate number or other important details and relay that information to the police. 

The event also featured tables where organizations such as AWARE Central Texas set up to share more information. 

Jessica Gresham and Blanca Ortiz, with AWARE Central Texas, said they were pleased with the presentation. AWARE Central Texas deals with victims of child abuse and family violence. 

“We know that this is something that needs to be discussed. We know that it’s a conversation that we need to have with community members because, like the detective said, it doesn’t look like what the media and movies and T.V. portray it to be,” Ortiz said. “It’s happening in our homes and our community, and we really want to be able to talk to the community about how we deal with this and how we work and how we want to end it.”

In 2019, AWARE Central Texas served approximately nine clients who were victims of sex trafficking. Since then, AWARE Central Texas has seen a 40 percent rise in the number of victims, according to Ortiz. 

For more information on PACT and how to spot the signs of child trafficking, visit www.pact.city. 

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