January is Human Trafficking and Awareness and Prevention Month across the country. And in Austin on Wednesday, state and local agencies joined forces to learn how to better identify the signs.
The Center for Missing and Exploited Children says the number of kids reported to them as missing in 2015 were also likely to be sex trafficking victims. And out of those victims, 74% were in foster care.
"We now look at them not as child prostitutes but as victims," says Dr. Vivian Dorsett. She is the founder of Foster Caring Action Network. She says many of the victims have aged out of foster care, and are now prime targets for sex traffickers.
"A lot of them have been abused while in care or prior to care and they tend to fall into those steps."
Dorsett spent sixteen years in foster care. She is one of several experts who have come to the Austin Children's Shelter to help child workers learn how to spot the signs.
"Many victims don't consider themselves victims, they don't recognize that they are victims and that's part of why we are here today. We want to raise awareness," says Andrea Sparks. She is the Executive Director of the Texas Regional Office of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
"The reality is," Sparks says, "sex trafficking is a problem because people are making money trafficking children."
And she says there is an alarming trend growing with predators going after at-risk teens online. "What we are really trying to do in Texas, with our Texas regional office is prevent this and get our kids, their parents, our care givers for kids in care, our teachers, everyone aware that we need to to be monitoring the internet and what kids are doing on apps."
It's that awareness everyone hopes will protect the most vulnerable.
"You can change all the laws you want," says Dorsett, "It's just a law so there needs to be one on one mentoring and advocacy and training to workers that are actually in the grind with these young adults when they are going through foster care."
If you think you might be a victim of exploitation or you know someone who is, call 911 or The National Center For Missing and Exploited Children'S 24-hour hotline, 1-800-The-Lost, or online at cybertipline.com.
The Department of Homeland also launched their Blue Campaign, to end human trafficking. According to their website...
The Blue Campaign is the unified voice for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) efforts to combat human trafficking. Working in collaboration with law enforcement, government, non-governmental and private organizations, the Blue Campaign strives to protect the basic right of freedom and to bring those who exploit human lives to justice.
Through the Blue Campaign, DHS raises public awareness about human trafficking, leveraging partnerships to educate the public to recognize human trafficking and report suspected instances. The Blue Campaign also offers training to law enforcement and others to increase detection and investigation of human trafficking, and to protect victims and bring suspected traffickers to justice. To view all available Blue Campaign resources, please visit our resources page.
Click to view INFOGRAPHIC from The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children®