Austin Police have charged a man with sex trafficking for connecting with a 16-year-old on the dating site seeking arrangement. They met up at Bowie High School.
Recruitment and solicitation of sex trafficking victims has become quicker, easier, and almost undetectable because of increased internet usage and social media. Texas ranks 2nd in the country when it comes to human trafficking. The Austin-area is no stranger to the crime.
"These predators are online looking for kids typing in, 'I hate my mom, I hate my dad ' and they pounce," says Steven Phenix, public relations director, The Refuge for DMST.
59-year-old Richard Inserra has been charged with trafficking of persons, a 1st degree felony. He admitted to meeting a 16-year-old girl on the dating website, Seeking Arrangement. Steven Phenix, with The Refuge for Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking, says the Internet has made recruitment easier.
"It's not just Seeking Arrangement. It's Facebook, it's Twitter, it's Pinterest, Instagram - I mean all those sorts of things. They're looking for kids who have low self-esteem so they can pick them up," says Phenix.
According to court documents, Inserra paid the victim fifty dollars for three pictures and agreed to pay $300 for sex. They arranged to meet at Bowie High School on December 17th. Inserra says he picked her up that day and drove her to a La Quinta Inn, where they engaged in sexual relations. In an interview with authorities, the victim says she was offered money but did not take it. She ultimately left the motel saying she was frightened of Inserra. We're told this happens all too often.
"It's the fastest growing crime in the world. Only drugs is more popular. Like I said, it's because it's an easier crime. As I mentioned, you can only sell a gram of cocaine once, sell a gun once, you can sell a child over and over and over," says Phenix.
Due to the growing number of victims, The Refuge has designed The Refuge Ranch. It will provide long-term holistic care to girls 11 to 17 years old who have been rescued out of sex trafficking. It will be on 50 acres of land just outside of Austin and open late 2017.
"The majority of these cases though are not people who come from stable homes. 74 percent of them have come from the foster care and CPS system. Still, there's 24 or 25 percent out there that live with their mom and dad and end up trafficked out of their own homes," says Phenix.
The Texas Attorney General says potential red flags for children include:
- Luxury items
- Tattoos or branding
- Sexually provocative clothing
- Hotel key cards
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says 1-in-5 runaways reported to them in 2015 were likely sex trafficking victims. If the situation is an emergency or you believe someone is in immediate danger, call 911. Then call the National Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. For more information click here.