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BROWNSVILLE — Another fight with her parents.
Her friends won’t talk to her. She’s out on the street. She’s fled an abusive stepfather, and her mother won’t defend her.
She goes online seeking validation, and she finds it from a handsome 18-year-old boy.
Just one problem. He’s not 18. He’s a 35-year-old child sex trafficker who’s luring her with promises of love, friendship and acceptance. And she’ll end up in a nightmare.
This is a scenario that is played out in real time every moment of every day in every place all over the world. Stories abound about these horrors, so perhaps that’s why so many people are talking about the movie “Sound of Freedom” which details one man’s mission to prevent this tragedy.
As seems to be the usual behavior these days, too many people are getting bogged down in irrelevant side issues about the film and its subject matter, which only serves as a pointless distraction from the very real problem of child trafficking.
There’s nothing irrelevant or pointless about children having their lives and futures horribly damaged through the trafficking of their persons and their lives by the highest bidder. While child trafficking can mean forced servitude of any kind, the horror of the sex trafficking of the innocents ignites an especially primal disgust among many.
That’s why Nick Garza, assistant district attorney for Cameron County, pursues these cases as a member of the Border Prosecution Unit.
“We’ve probably had, in terms of trafficking cases in our office, I think it was about eight in the past two years,” Garza said. “We’ve done some awareness in the schools on parents being vigilant on their social media apps. Be careful what you put out there; it’s just an easier way to contact these kids. So, I think that’s probably a good baseline as far as protecting children.”
He made reference now to his own family, his nieces and nephews and how they are kept safe even when away. They use the Find My Friends app to track each other’s iPhones.
“The kids go out, they’re monitoring their locations,” Garza said.
Even in families rife with teenage drama and discord, the parents are still the lifesavers even when their teenagers are furious with them. Garza made reference to a case still pending in which a young girl was in deep conflict with her parents. She was in that emotionally vulnerable state, seeking affirmation elsewhere, and she found it in an expert manipulator who told her exactly what she wanted to hear.
“He’s a 42-year-old man claiming to be 18, and he’s luring her in, promising her, feeding into that need, that void, that conflict at home, and she has entrusted herself to him,” Garza said.
He was speaking of a specific case, but it’s the familiar pattern of so many cases of these tragedies. The perpetrator in this case — now the defendant — did meet her a couple of times, Garza said, and unfortunately some vile acts against the girl did occur.
But then here comes dad, the one she’s angry with perhaps, but he’s there nevertheless.
“Her father says, ‘Wait a minute. Where were you?’” Garza related. “The father started checking the phone, and then he was the one that contacted law enforcement.”
Law enforcement went through the perp’s phone, and officers found the man was talking to multiple young girls with the obvious intent of grooming them for the sex industry. He did have ties to Houston and that’s where he could have taken the girl for that purpose. But that nightmare was avoided thanks to a father maintaining vigilance on his daughter even in the most stressful of times.
Some people may say, “Well, of course. She’s still his daughter and he’s going to.”
One of our great social ills is a lack of integrity and strength of character on the part of parents. Many kids become marginalized because the parents simply throw them out because they can’t — or won’t — deal with them. They are often called throwaways, and these and so many others are left without protection and made vulnerable to the most deviant of society.
While we most often hear of perps targeting young girls, boys sometimes get trapped into it too. Garza personally hasn’t had any of those cases locally, but his training has shown that the pathology of targeting boys and young men follows the same pattern.
“They use the same social media, the same vulnerability, whether it’s a conflict at home or a conflict with others, a conflict maybe within themselves,” Garza said. “They talk about it with our training, the trans folks, the outcasts. They get isolated so they’re vulnerable to that predator. These are not good people that do these acts.”
Assistant district attorney Beto Lopez, who is also on the BPU, recalled an incident involving a personal friend.
“His 4-year-old daughter was approached by a total stranger at HEB,” he said. “Luckily, the parent saw what was occurring, and basically told the man, ‘Mind your business, get away, get away from her.’”
Unfortunately, the man fled the store before anyone could stop him, but the child was spared any real harm.
“A lot of these problems arise from the lack of instruction at home,” Lopez said. “We need to educate parents as to the gravity of this situation.”
He said greater awareness of this problem has changed the way patrol officers conduct traffic stops. They know more fully the danger signs of a child in crisis, and they know how to act on what they see before them.
Perhaps this greater awareness has prompted the state to fund the BPU.
“The governor has prioritized sex trafficking since the last legislative session,” said Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz.
“This prosecution unit is a state-wide unit comprised of prosecutors from here to El Paso,” Saenz said. “In addition to drug trafficking and other trans-national activity that we’re asked to focus on. One of those priorities from the governor’s office is sex trafficking.”
Perhaps through greater awareness by law enforcement, greater vigilance on the part of parents, teachers and community members at large, there can be less trafficking of vulnerable children and a greater movement of positivity, vitality, and the transfer of ideas.