On Jan. 11, Kenneth White, 26, of Dallas was sentenced to 27 years in federal prison. The felony sentence was for forcing a developmentally disabled 18-year-old to stay in a motel room and perform commercial sex acts.
The girl had known White since she was 15, said John Parker, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, which made White guilty of recruiting a minor to engage in sex acts.
Unfortunately, cases like this are not uncommon.
In 2015, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) found 433 cases of human trafficking in Texas, making it the state with the second-highest number in the country, behind California.
The United States Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) defines human trafficking in two ways, as, “a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.”
TVPA defines labor trafficking is defined as, “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, “sex trafficking is the fastest growing business of organized crime, and the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world.”
The North Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking (NTCAH) said experts estimate there are between 21 and 29 million victims of human trafficking, which means more people are enslaved today than ever before.
Parker said the exact number of human trafficking cases is almost impossible to determine.
The national Uniform Crime Report started collecting data on human trafficking in 2013. Numbers are given by state and local law enforcement agencies but not social service organizations.
In 2014 Texas had 1,074 agencies reporting, and they found 191 human trafficking offenses and 691 arrests, the highest out of the 27 participating states.
NTCAH said Texas attracts trafficking because of its highways, its border with Mexico and international airports.
In 2005, 31 law enforcement agencies and social service providers formed the North Texas Anti-Trafficking Task Force. It now has 40 agencies.
Alex Lewis, the deputy criminal chief at the Fort Worth Division U.S. Attorney’s Office, said in late March the verdict for a local case is expected to come back.
“We were able to get a conviction on an individual who was a violent offender,” said Lewis. “Who was a, for lack of a better term, a local pimp who was forcibly having individuals engage in prostitution for him.”
Detective Luevanos, assigned to the Human Trafficking Task Force in Fort Worth, investigated 24 cases last year.
Lewis said three cases related to human trafficking were handled in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Fort Worth Division, last year. However he expects more cases to be tried throughout this year than previous years due to a new system the U.S. Attorney’s office has implemented. An attorney has been embedded in the Homeland Security task force, which includes the FBI and local agencies.
“It makes a much more convenient streamline process if an agent of a police officer has a question related to a search warrant or an affidavit or just basic investigative questions they can ask that attorney who has been embedded with them and [they] can assist them in making the case run further,” Lewis said.
Luevanos has already investigated one human trafficking crime this year. He said he sorts through tips and information, which are not included in the investigation count.
Earlier this year, concerns were raised in regards to suspected human trafficking at the Ridgmar and Hulen malls. However Officer Daniel Segura, the public relations officer for the Fort Worth Police Department, said no criminal offenses were involved in the incidents.
“We did ask citizens and mall visitor to continue reporting any suspicious activity and patrol officers will conduct extra patrol based off their call loads,” said Segura.
Lewis said predators finding children in public places, such as malls, is not unusual.
“We’ve got several leads in which individuals have walked up to children, 13- or 14-year-old girls, and offered them $100 if they would come and take pictures,” Lewis said. “Individuals are becoming more and more brazen out there.”
Parker said girls are disproportionately targeted by traffickers. The NHTRC found that 368 of the human trafficking victims in Texas last year were female, which was 85 percent of the cases.
“The majority of the victims here in Fort Worth have been young females and typically the age has been 13,” said Luevanos.
The Texas Department of Public Safety said girls first become victims of prostitution between the ages of 12 and 14 when it comes to human trafficking.
There is no way to identify a human trafficker. A trafficker can be any race, age or gender, said Parker.
The only common thread in offenders is that they have no remorse, said Lewis.
“They feel that as long as they can get away with it, it must be ok,” said Lewis. “While we see different ages in the defendants, different races, creeds, religions, everything the one factor that is consistent is that the defendants have absolutely no remorse for the actions they’re taking.”
According to Lewis and Luevanos, social media is becoming a heavily used tool for traffickers to attract victims.
“You’ve got KiK now and some new things going on,” said Lewis. “Every day it seems like there’s a new social media that everybody’s got to be a part of and that’s where the children go. Once the children go there the predators knew exactly where to go too.”
Luevanos said parents need to be aware of their children’s social websites.
“I would encourage parents to go ahead and be as involved as possible in who your children are texting, who are they conversing with,” Lewis agreed. “Ask them, who is this person, remind them in the age of the internet is not always who it seems to be.”
KiK is a messaging app that allows users to communicate with friends and anyone else with an username, including strangers.
Rod McLeod, part of public relations for KiK, said KiK’s first priority is safety, and they cooperate with law enforcement anywhere in the world.
McLeod said there are two guides for parents to access that can help with their child’s use. The guides can be found by clicking here and here.
However, without access to the child’s phone, there is no way for a parent to limit or see who their child is communicating with. Even with access to the child’s phone, children can still delete any message or conversation at any given time. iPhones also allow users to hide or password-protect apps and folders that restrict parent’s access to their phone.
If a person witnesses or suspects human trafficking they should immediately contact the Fort Worth Police Department. There are also a number of social services in North Texas available for human trafficking victims including, Traffick 911, Mosaic Family Services and New Friends New Life.
“We were blessed as humans to be given a butterfly in the stomachs instinct, I call it, a fight or flight instinct,” Lewis said. “If you feel that something is wrong you’re probably not far off so you need to do something so you need to take steps to do that. As far as individuals eyeing or eyeing up or down your children in open spaces in the mall or anywhere else that [human trafficking] happens all the time.”