About That Creep at Target…

By now, if you’re like many American moms on Facebook, you’ve seen the stories about moms with young children in tow who were followed and approached by creepy strangers at Target. Most of these stories allege that these moms avoided run-ins with human trafficking rings that had the intention of snatching up their preschooler. It’s scary. What has this world come to?

I think it’s a good sign that more and more people are aware there are modern-day slaves in our country. Human trafficking is alive and thriving in the United States, particularly in Houston. Because our great city has a booming economy, it attracts huge sporting events like the NFL’s Big Game, professional all-star games, and prestigious conferences such as Offshore Technology Conference {OTC}. Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad, and since those huge events attract money, it also attracts human trafficking. In the Greater Houston area, there are approximately 20,000 human trafficking victims. That’s roughly the student populations of Rice and Baylor Universities combined. Some of the Houston hot spots of human trafficking activity include Galleria-area strip clubs, Telephone Road “cantinas,” and even Katy-area massage parlors.

However, the chances are low that the weirdo at Target is a human trafficker. There. I said it.

Say what?!?!

No, I’m not discounting the scariness and seriousness of hostile experiences. Nor am I minimizing the uneasiness that you feel as you walk down the aisle with that big red cart and debating whether you should allow your child to browse the amazing Legos just outside of arm’s reach. I hear you. I’m not questioning that felonies happen and that heinous crimes against children happen, too. But, in order to fully beat human trafficking, we need to evolve from awareness and fear of being a victim, to really understanding what human trafficking is so that we can rise together against it.
The issue of human trafficking is complex, multi-faceted, and difficult to justly and accurately simplify into easily relatable situations in every day life. It may be easier to turn a blind eye since the problem seems so distant since it’s not that weirdo at Target. But, you may be surprised at how that distance my shorten itself as your children approach the tween and teenage years.

Houston ranks number 1 in the United States for number of reported human trafficking victims. The majority is labor trafficking {forced/coerced servitude}, and the rest is sex trafficking, which gets more media coverage. The majority of sex trafficking victims are either manipulated or forced into prostitution between the ages of 13 and 18. Of these victims, 77% are submitted to human trafficking by people that they know, whether it be family, friends, or boyfriends. Only 9% are lured by strangers. And, those who are most at-risk for human trafficking are runaways and homeless, especially if they are LGBT.

For example, there was a recent local case of a Sugar Land teen-recently-turned-adult who was lured into sex trafficking via Snapchat. You can even watch the inspiring interview with her father who’s working on legislation to stop human traffickers.

What’s my point? That you and your preschooler are an unlikely target at Target. You can now breathe easy and redirect that fear into making a difference. The difference doesn’t have to be wide-scale; it can start in your home.

So what can we do?

Prevention is the best cure.

The best prevention is to raise confident children in a loving, secure, safe home so that they aren’t vulnerable to the tactics of traffickers. It is much easier for traffickers to charm, woo, and coerce a willing and unsuspecting victim than it is to abduct one from Target, especially with a parent within proximity. A common tactic used by traffickers is to “court” girls who appear self-conscious and will get her self-worth from these “Romeo pimps'” who promise love and affection.

Trust — with systems in place.

A corporate motto I picked-up on and is very relevant with parenting is, “Trust but validate.” Have systems in place that will kick in once temptation sets in. We are only human after all. My kids’ godmother is a middle school teacher, and her number one advice to parents is not to allow smart phones/devices in the kids’ bedrooms, especially overnight. It’s easier to prevent raunchy Snapchats from happening if the phone is on YOU rather than your kid!

Know the signs of human trafficking.

Be aware of these red flags from Shared Hope International ::

  • Signs of physical abuse such as burn marks, bruises, or cuts
  • Unexplained absences from class
  • Less appropriately-dressed than before
  • Sexualized behavior
  • Overly tired in class
  • Withdrawn, depressed, distracted, or checked out
  • Brags about making or having lots of money
  • Displays expensive clothes, accessories, or shoes
  • New tattoo {Tattoos are often used by pimps as a way to brand victims. Tattoos of a name, symbol of money, or barcode could indicate trafficking.}
  • Older boyfriend or new friends with a different lifestyle
  • Talks about wild parties or invites other students to attend parties
  • Shows signs of gang affiliation {ie: a preference for specific colors, notebook doodles of gang symbols, etc.}

Know before you go.

In Houston, the hot beds for human trafficking are massage parlors. Unlike the New York Times article, nail salons aren’t as much of an issue in Houston. However, if you’re in either type of establishment and your spidey-senses tell you that something isn’t quite right, you can ask to see state licenses and check hours of operation. 24/7 is usually pretty sketchy, as most legit places are only open until 9 or 10 pm. More tips can be found on the City of Houston Anti-Human Trafficking site.

See something, say something.

You could make a difference in someone’s life with tips to these following organizations.

I’ve only really touched on sex trafficking and haven’t even discussed labor trafficking. But we’ll get started with that for now. Remember: you’re rocking this parenthood thing. Keep on rocking so that you raise loved and empowered children who will not fall victim to the tactics of human traffickers.

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Kristine H
Kristine grew up in Houston where she met her husband Richard. The high school sweethearts welcomed their daughter Kara {2014} after naturally overcoming infertility. Sixteen months later, their son Ray {2015} joined their family. She balances the allergy mom life as well as a full-time job at an oil & gas supermajor where she is the queen of PowerPoint. Her Houston roots run deep with her Bachelors degree from the University of Houston and MBA from Rice University. Kristine loves traveling, good food, and experiencing all things H-town with family and friends, especially drinks {bars, breweries, boutique coffee shops!}, museums, and of course, BEYONCÉ. You can follow her adventures on vu hu life, Instagram and Twitter {@vuhulife}.



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