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Nonprofit leader gives human trafficking presentation

By Steven James BCC Editor

Alamo Youth Center President Chuck Paul gave the presentation “Not in Our Backyard!” at the YO Ranch Hotel and Conference Center in Kerrville on Tuesday to talk about preventing human trafficking in the Texas Hill Country.
The Alamo Youth Center is a nonprofit currently attempting to build a rescue facility for young trafficking victims. Paul, who is a former U.S. Customs officer and Child Protective Services senior and special investigator, has been giving lectures on how the hospitality industry can stop human trafficking on their properties.
Human trafficking is the illegal advertisement, obtainment, recruitment and transporting of people for the purpose of exploiting them, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. Paul said in the U.S. most forms of human trafficking are done for sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse. He also said the term used for domestic human trafficking victims is “commercial exploitation.”
Paul gave tips on how to notice human trafficking and what to do when one thinks a child is being sold for sex, including observing if a child is dressed inappropriately for her age or for current weather conditions, if she is malnourished, if she wears heavy makeup to cover injuries and if she uses vulgar language when interacting with law enforcement. He also gave information about Backpage websites, places online where people can find escorts, those who are paid to go on dates with others, and prostitutes, people who are paid to have sex with others.
“They don’t see this as a human being, they see this as a product,” Paul said. “I was already aware of international victims of my work with U.S. Customs Service around the border, but then we started finding out it’s a bigger problem domestically.”
Nearly one in six runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2014 were likely sex trafficking victims, according to the NCMEC website. Sixty-eight percent of that one in six was either in foster care or social services care.
Paul said while examining Backpage sites last month, he found nearly 6,374 individual escort profiles in the Hill Country, 85 of which were registered in Kerrville, and at least one in Medina.
Paul said traffickers, sometimes known as pimps, tend to target marginalized children, mostly girls, because they think nobody will look for the child if she goes missing. This includes children from foster homes and shelters, runaways, the homeless and those who had suffered from mental or sexual abuse in the past.
Even though the average age of a commercial exploitation victim is 15, Paul mentioned people of all ages and backgrounds can be prey for traffickers, even those who come from more-or-less safe environments.
Prostitution is illegal in the majority of the U.S.
Paul said children who get away or are rescued from their traffickers typically get charged with a minor offence and then are sent to juvenile detention centers. Most are considered too dangerous to children who live at foster centers, and act out, getting labelled as “bad kids,” until they legally become adults.
“How many foster homes and shelters are prepared to deal with this?” Paul asked. “Asking our foster centers and our shelters to deal with this is not appropriate. If you have to deal with a situation, you need to ask for specialized help.”
Paul noted traffickers, as well as their victims, use different terms to describe people who work in this industry.
For example, a “Romeo” is a person who pretends to love and care for the victim by giving the victim nice things, as well as taking the victim to nice places; a “Gorilla” is a person who acts violent in front of the victim to look tough, which includes beating the victim; and a “bottom” is a victim who finds other victims for the traffickers, normally to avoid engaging in as many sexual acts as she once did.
Another part of Paul’s presentation was a 2015 map created by modern-day slavery and human trafficking research center Polaris Project. The map indicated the two states with the most trafficking are California and Texas, with the most common occurrences in Texas being in Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio.
Paul noted I-35, which runs from Laredo, Texas to Duluth, Minnesota, and I-10, which runs from Santa Monica, California to Jacksonville, Florida, both pass through the Texas Hill Country. Both of these highways are commonly used by human traffickers, he said.
He also said with the increase in both the Austin and San Antonio populations, they may eventually become one giant metropolitan area, making protecting marginalized children and other human trafficking victims harder to protect. By 2040, an additional 1 million people are expected to move to San Antonio, according to San Antonio Tomorrow.
The hotel, the American Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters of Texas, Hill Country CARES and the Kerrville Police Department helped sponsor the event.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline is 1-888-373-7888. People can also send messages to “Befree” (233733). People in immediate danger should call 9-1-1.