HOUSTON — Sex trafficking is a serious problem in the Greater Houston area, however, viral posts that portray near abductions by the sides of roads or from stores are often false and sharing them online could be harmful.
Rania Mankarious with Houston Crime Stoppers said the Greater Houston area leads the nation in trafficking rates and in order to fight it, the community needs to understand what it really looks like.
Two recent online posts that garnered plenty of shares but were false include a claim in College Station that zip ties are being placed on windshields so the driver will pull over, creating an opportunity for sex traffickers, and a post out of Sugar Land claiming a woman was nearly snatched from a gas station pump.
KHOU Verified both claims were false.
“Attacking you in the middle of broad daylight or doing something to your vehicle to end up abducting you,” Mankarious said. “It’s just not something we are seeing.”
Mankarious explains that although there may be scams out there where criminals try to rob a victim or take advantage, sex traffickers are often much more sophisticated.
“You have to remember that sex traffickers, unfortunately, are an advanced criminal network. They operate like a business,” Mankarious said.
A business that has focused its sights on Houston.
“It is an absolute, almost epidemic in our area and we are urging, pleading with families to understand that kids are way more vulnerable than they may think and it’s all through a gadget,” Mankarious said.
Mankarious explained that sex trafficking typically doesn’t look like Hollywood often portrays it.
“As long as people are fixated on that, that’s their idea of what trafficking looks like or an abduction looks like, they are missing the real risks which are children being targeted online, preyed upon online, stalked online and lured away very, very strategically,” Mankarious said.
When false rumors are shared on social media by those hoping to warn their communities, they may be doing more harm than good.
“We don’t want people to hear it so often and see that it’s fake that they grow numb to it,” Mankarious said.
There is a lot being done to fight sex trafficking in the Greater Houston area including education programs and legislation. One of the best ways to stop it from happening is knowing what to look for especially in children who are most vulnerable.
Mankarious recommends the following tips:
- Use real-life examples of sex trafficking to talk to your kids about what it is and how it starts.
- Download the Bark app that helps you track activity on your child’s phone.
- Stay up to date on all of the social media platforms they are using; turn tracking and location settings off.
For more information on what sex trafficking usually looks like and what to watch out for, click here.