TUCSON, Ariz. — Sex trafficking continues to plague our society and nowadays investigators are seeing more activity. Homeland Security Special Agent Tammy Breitzke says trafficking numbers have gone up during the pandemic. Predators are doing everything they can to draw in their victims and the number one source of contact is social media.
“We’ve had an impact from the pandemic, I’ve seen more calls coming in. We’re seeing men, women, old, young. We’ve seen juveniles who are actually traffickers that are recruiting within the school systems,” Breitzke said.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the organization has seen a 93% increase in online enticement reports targeting kids between January and June of this year compared to the same time last year.
Traffickers are still targeting malls, movie theatres, and places where families get assistance like food banks.
In some cases, victims are approached with promises of money and work. Single moms with children are one of the tip targets, a relationship can give a trafficker access to an entire family including babies.
“It's the second most profitable as far as illegal activities go because you can sell a person over and over. There are people who have lost their jobs they’re looking for a way to make income. Some of those people entering the sex trade and are extremely vulnerable at being recruited by traffickers,” Breitzke said.
The Department of Homeland Security is trying to fight the trend by educating the public. Police, churches, community groups, and hotels get regular training to recognize the signs. As for parents, they might notice a change in clothing, new cell phones, and behavior.
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Breitzke says some victims develop trauma bonds that lead them back to their captors another shocking reality is sometimes the traffickers are family members.
"We teach healthcare providers so when victims come in they recognize those indicators. They’ve been controlled by their trafficker, they will develop trauma bonds and they will take steps to protect their trafficker when we’re trying to find out hey who's doing this to you,”
The bottom line is parents have to pay close attention to who their kids have contact with online at all times.
“Know what your kids have logins for, know what they are active on, ask them questions. If you don’t know what a phrase or certain group of emojis means, google it,” Breitzke said.