The world is worse than we thought.
This past Saturday, a speaker at our Cypress Texas Tea Party meeting talked to us about child sex trafficking. This is an issue that has horrified me before. I’ve followed Tim Ballard’s Operation Underground Railroad efforts to free children in various countries. But, while heart rending, that work was mostly foreign, far away. Any connection to the US seemed to be through illegal immigration—closer, but still kind of far away.
A few years ago, I wrote of a sting operation in Waco, Texas, which seemed very close to home. But Kelly Litvak told us it is even closer. Very close.
founder of ChildProofAmerica.org
image from March newsletter
Litvak is the founder and executive director of ChildProofAmerica.org, an effort to inform parents and others to learn how to recognize signs of danger and work to prevent what they went through.
The Litvaks suffered through this horror with their own daughter. She was a good student, an excellent athlete, involved in their church, in the Cinco Ranch area of Katy, Texas. And Kelly Litvak ran a prison ministry for juvenile offenders, so they had talked about a great many things. Yet their daughter got trapped in this evil.
Cinco Ranch is a very nice suburb, west of Houston, with a highly rated school district. Not what you'd expect of a seedy underbelly.
Here are some shocking statistics she told us:
· One in 20 US men have purchased sex online. (That is, they set up the encounter using the internet).
· In Houston, that number is 1 in 5 men.
I can’t even!
I have lived a fairly sheltered life. To my knowledge I have never interacted with a man who would ever go to a prostitute. It is so uncivilized that my life doesn’t intersect. I talked with Kelly Litvak’s husband about this afterward. He agreed it’s shocking. He said, you won’t find them in this room (the conference room of the restaurant where we were meeting with civic-minded patriots), “But out there in the restaurant, I guarantee there’s someone.”
Kelly told us there’s a group called the Elijah Project that helps inform on this issue. They took her on a tour to identify the brothels in the area. For local people who know this area, there are 14 brothels on Mason and Fry Roads alone. You have probably passed by them. They’re in strip malls. Places like massage centers or maybe reflexology therapy centers, with dark tinted windows, open long hours, like 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM.
There are more brothels in Houston than Starbucks.
I was at a chiropractor in Cypress once, several years ago—again, in a nice neighborhood, within half a block of the high school—when a nearby massage parlor was raided, and we assumed it must have been a brothel. But even then, I didn’t think about underage, trafficked children. And yet that was probably true there.
It’s not only a local problem, of course. There’s this story from Cleveland, OH, where three pastors were indicted. According to an eye-opening piece from The Rutherford Institute, the Baltimore—Washington DC area is a hub for sex trade.
An estimated 14,500 to 17,500 victims are trafficked into the US each year, mainly through illegal immigration. But some 300,000 US teens are also trafficked each year. That’s nearly a third of a million. The target age is 12-14 years; the average age is 13—which means there are younger girls trafficked as well. Half of all victims are minors; 80% are female. The internet is the most likely interaction point for pimps.
It’s a huge business. It’s the second largest criminal industry. According to Litvak, a pimp can make $150,000 to $300,000 a year per victim. As horrifying as it is, if you do the math, at a price of $25 per rape—and rape is what we’re talking about—that’s possibly 12,000 a year. About 33 a day. Some days more than that.
We’re all in agreement that the Elizabeth Smart case was horrific. A young, innocent girl, taken from her home, held hostage for most of a year, raped repeatedly every day. She has remarkable resilience, using her story to help others. She repeats something her mother told her, that the best thing she could do to disempower the perpetrators is to move on and live a happy life. The Litvaks have that kind of attitude as well. And their daughter, now rescued, and in her 20s, is doing well and considering being an advocate as her life’s work.
What I’d like to point out is that, as rare as Smart’s case was, it isn’t very different from the daily experience of children, or young adults, trapped in the sex trade as slaves. This is just too much evil.
There are several problems to solve: Rescue and rehabilitation. Prosecution of traffickers/pimps and buyers. Prevention and protection of children. Getting rid of demand.
Today’s post is mostly to raise awareness. I’d like to share the information for parents and grandparents that Litvak gave us.
She talked about the grooming process to watch out for, in six steps.
· Step 1: Befriend. This can begin when a young person is seen as vulnerable, such as after a traumatic event, such as the death or divorce of a parent, a friend’s suicide, or something as relatively small as a boyfriend breakup. Traffickers look for clues online to spot vulnerability and then seek out the teen to build a relationship.
· Step 2: Intoxicate. The new “friend” invites using drugs and/or alcohol to numb the pain. This has the additional “benefit” of causing friction in the family.
· Step 3: Alienate. The teen is led to believe her family is against her. This may be the first notice the parents have of something off, but they may not recognize it as different from simply teen separation from parents that is a natural part of growing up. But this is already a severe danger point for the child, hard to step back from without intervention.
· Step 4: Isolate. Not only is the child disconnected from family, but now the “new friend” cuts them off from longtime friends, anyone who shares their previous core values.
· Step 5: Desensitize. The child is exposed to a great many formerly shocking scenes and images, and is told these are all normal. Soon nothing that used to shock seems shocking.
· Step 6: Capitalize. At this point, the child is separated from family and friend, disconnected from their moral compass, and ripe for taking.
|graphic from Kelly Litvak's presentation May 11, 2019|
The perpetrators can be patient. This process could take as long as two years. They could time it to get the teen to walk out the door of their home and into the arms of the cartel at age 18, when it’s harder to prove the crime, because force, fraud, or coercion must now be shown—which are not necessary for minor victims.
What is a parent or grandparent supposed to do? One thing is to be very vigilant about the online world the child is allowed to connect with. Limit their phone use. Look at their phones; check the apps they use. Among the dangerous apps to look for are Kik, Whisper, Periscope, and Partyline—all used by pimps to build relationships. Periscope and Partyline include GPS tracking. There are also YouNow live video and Snapchat, which has a hidden backdoor app for hiding photos. Tinder is used for sexual encounters. Keepsafe is used to hide photos in an app disguised as a calculator.
|Apps and symbols to beware of.|
graphic from Kelly Litvak's presentation May 11, 2019
If you see these apps on your child’s phone, you’ve got a problem already. If you take a phone away, be aware that some pimps provide alternate phones you won’t know about. If there’s child porn or evidence of trafficking on your child’s phone, you can give the police permission to search the phone. Note that there is risk that your child will be caught up in prosecution; one of the things teens are encouraged to do in the desensitizing process is send nude selfies, which qualify as child porn. However, with a minor it’s not necessarily going to be seen as their fault, especially if they cooperate and help identify the person luring them. Regardless, whatever punishment they go through is still better than being caught up in sex trafficking, with a life expectancy of about seven years.
What can you do besides watch your child’s behavior and worry? There are some apps to help parents. All of them approach things differently, some clandestinely, some with the knowledge of the child. These include Highster Mobile, Net Nanny, Qustodio, and mSpy.
Keep dialed in to what your kids are doing. Check up on them. Talk with them—about this danger specifically. Make sure they’re equipped to protect themselves before you put a phone in their hands. Monitor social media. Set your house alarm to know if anyone leaves during the night, and use security cameras. Be on high alert if your child has experienced a traumatic event; get them professional trauma counselling, if needed.
If the worst happens, as it did for the Litvaks, their program, ChildproofAmerica.org, can immediately send a family guide to walk you through the process of getting legitimate help, and avoiding the scammers. On top of all their pain, the Litvaks were also victims of fraud. Someone called these desperate parents, said they were former Seals specializing in finding children. All they had to do was put up $6,000 and they’d get their daughter back. Of course, what really happened was these scammers disappeared with the money. (ChildproofAmerica is a nonprofit that does not accept any donations from families in crisis.)
It’s a wicked world we’re in.
I don’t really have time today to fully cover another big concern—demand. Why is there a market for sex with children? How can we be so savage a society that people who function among us think that is acceptable behavior?
Desensitization is part of it. Porn desensitizes, and it creates an addictive desire for something more intense. Every pornographic photo involves a ruined life. It’s not a victimless crime. But it’s so pervasive, I think we also need to look at porn addicts and help them find a way out of the savagery and back into civilization. Before they become so savage that they would seek out a prostitute, or worse, a child prostitute.
Desensitization, unfortunately, is also a goal of sex education. As Rebecca Friedrichs describes in her book Standing Up to Goliath, the curriculum has nothing to do with teaching a young person safe sexual practices. It instead teaches risky behavior, including perverted behavior, and normalizes it. Healthy sexual relations between married mother and father are never examples. And in some places the very concept of abstinence is prohibited. Look at step 5 again. Such curricula follow an agenda that serves anyone but children or parents. We would be much better off today if all sex education had been left to parents with the support of their churches.
I am sickened to see this savage world functioning alongside our civil society, hidden practically in plain sight. Evil is real. And we’re at war.