CapMetro training workers to identify, respond to child trafficking

Research shows many victims of child trafficking are being moved via public transit.

Now, CapMetro is taking part in a campaign that trains workers and travelers to identify and respond to this threat. 

Lori Cohen, the CEO of Protect All Children from Trafficking, joined FOX 7 Austin's Rebecca Thomas to discuss.

Rebecca Thomas: Lori, let's start with some background information. What do people need to know about child trafficking?

Lori Cohen: So child trafficking. Sex trafficking is happening in our communities. It's very real. It's very present. We tend to think of it as something very sensationalist and in the movies, but it is happening everywhere. And unfortunately, that includes Austin.

Rebecca Thomas: How are traffickers using public transit?

Lori Cohen: So traffickers use multiple forms of transportation. And it's important to emphasize that this is not just happening in transit. It's happening in all forms of transportation. However, we are partnering with CapMetro on this project because transit is a really exciting and important way to disrupt trafficking. And I just want to thank the leadership of CapMetro for taking this step, because they've recognized the important role that transit can play to make sure that all our children are safe.

Rebecca Thomas: Talk about that campaign. What will you be teaching transit employees and riders?

Lori Cohen: So the TACT campaign, which is Transit Against Child Trafficking, is part of a national rollout, and our organization, Protect All Children From Trafficking, is partnering with leading transit authorities around the country, where the leadership has recognized the role that transit can play in protecting kids. And the campaign is innovative and unique in that it combines research. So we've worked with a team of researchers who are looking at social media, who are tracking data, looking at metrics and partnering that with the voices of survivors who tell us what their experiences were like while they were being trafficked, while they were being transported. And really importantly, the survivors are telling us, what do they wish transit operators knew in advance? What do they wish other passengers knew, and what could be done to help protect those children and report something suspicious when it seems like things just don't look right? 

Rebecca Thomas: So what are those signs to watch out for? What are some red flags?

Lori Cohen: So really a critical part of this process was the interview with the Survivors Council. And the survivors tell us that things such as if a child is boarding a bus and they're with someone who doesn't seem to be a parent, an older person, but it seems like the relationship is not a parent-child relationship, and that person is controlling, how the fare is being paid, controlling where the the child has to sit. If the child is looking down and not making eye contact, if the child seems fearful and then things that are involved, even if the child is traveling alone, what time is that child traveling? Is that child traveling on a bus when it's not a normal time for a child to be taking a bus to school? Is that child traveling, late at night or early in the morning or in the middle of the day? If it's a school-aged child, why is the child not in school? So looking at behavioral patterns, looking at: does the child look tired, hungry, fearful. And, one thing a survivor mentioned to me when she was being trafficked on a light rail and she said, look, I never looked out the window. And normally when you have a young person who's traveling, on a bus or on a train, you know, they're they're engaged, they're looking out the window. They want to see what's going on, she said. I kept my eyes always on the ground. So just really looking at a child's behavior, if it doesn't seem right, then trust your instinct.

Rebecca Thomas: And say something

Lori Cohen: Say something. Absolutely.

Rebecca Thomas: Okay. We are out of time. Lori Cohen, CEO of Protect All Children from trafficking. Thank you so much for sharing your time and perspective with us tonight.