(Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
During these uncertain times, as a result of the COVID -19 Pandemic, many social injustices have gained significant media and online presence. One movement that is gaining momentum is #savethechildren/ #saveourchildren, which shines a light on child sex trafficking nationally and globally. Child sex trafficking is a deplorable act perpetrated on society’s most vulnerable victims, innocent children who often have little to no voice in their own choices and circumstances.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) defines child sex trafficking as;
the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, or advertising of a minor child for a commercial sex act involving the exchange of anything of value – such as money, drugs, or a place to stay – for sexual activity.
Child sex trafficking is something about many of us know very little. What we do know is often learned from national or global platforms relating to children and families they traffic in other countries or news stories about wealthy billionaires preying on young girls both here in the U.S. and abroad. Unfortunately, it often goes unseen when it’s happening in rural communities because it can look different than what they portray in the global and national media campaigns.
We see the ad campaigns depicting young girls hanging around truck stops or being under her trafficker’s control. However, it is more likely to be a scenario in rural communities such as a teenager “selling” their nude pictures online or a parent or child being threatened with deportation by the abuser if they report the abuse or try to leave. It can also be a caregiver allowing a perpetrator open access to their child to exchange drugs or rent money. No matter the form it takes, it is essential to remember that at the core of child sex trafficking is the abuse of innocent children.
Child abuse happens every day, here in our local community. It is not always visible through marks and bruises. Child abuse takes many forms, including physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, witnessing violence (including domestic violence), or neglect and maltreatment. Child abuse can be detected or reasonably suspected without being seen. Most of the children we serve at The Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) are victims of sexual or physical abuse. Still, we also see children who face abuse by growing up in homes where domestic violence is continuously present.
The children live in a heightened state of fear and anxiousness. We meet children growing up in environments where the sale and use of illicit and prescription drugs are dominant, and they do not complete a child’s needs. We meet children whose sexual abuse by a sibling, family member, or friend is not recognized as abuse and is allowed to continue. And sadly, we hear the justifications for some adults not reporting abuse as “they are just kids,” “I don’t want to ruin someone’s life,” “they lie about everything so I’m sure they’re lying about this,” or “that only happens in other families, not ours.“
It is beautiful to see so many in our community concerned about children’s welfare and post #savethechildren/ #saveourchildren to Facebook pages, Instagram feeds, and Twitter, spreading awareness about the horrible things occurring to children in the world on a global and national level. Now we challenge you to see the abuse that is happening right here in our community. Last year, the CAC served over 220 children from Lamar and Red River counties. For 2020, we have already helped over 210 children, which is over a 40% increase from 2019.
Children come through the CAC due to the child abuse reports made to either CPS Hotline or local law enforcement. Each story of child abuse is reviewed and investigated through a multidisciplinary approach. That includes the District Attorney’s office, local law enforcement, Child Protective Services, The Children’s Advocacy Center, and local medical and mental health professionals with specialized training in trauma and abuse.
It is more likely that the struggles will be more visible during this pandemic, and the depth of the abuse will be more hidden. Lamar and Red River counties are healthy communities that come together in times of need and tragedy. We have all felt the need to support our local businesses and our local community during this pandemic. With this same concept, before we put our resources and efforts into agencies and movements that primarily operate on a global or national level, we should look to our neighbors and our children.
In the State of Texas, an adult must report suspected child abuse, but often what is right in front of you can be the hardest to see. We must come together as a community during this time. Across the state of Texas, child abuse reports have dropped significantly. Those who are the first to report suspicions of abuse do not currently have the same level of daily interaction with children due to the pandemic (i.e., teachers, daycare workers, school personnel, afterschool providers, youth group leaders, etc.). Now, more than ever, we must depend on our community to recognize abuse when it happens and make the report.
As an individual wondering how you can help and what you can do, please start with your community. Listen to your children and their friends and help us shed light on the child abuse happening here in our community. Help make it easier for children to speak out about abuse to begin their healing path and harder for the area to turn away from it.
Resources available on how you can help
The Children’s Advocacy Center of Paris http://www.cacparis.org/
Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas https://www.cactx.org/
The National Children’s Alliance https://engage.nationalchildrensalliance.org/home
The National Children’s Advocacy Center https://www.nationalcac.org/
If you suspect child abuse, contact the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
- By Phone: 1-800-252-5400
- Online: https://www.txabusehotline.org/
- Call 911 if it’s an emergency.
- Call local law enforcement.
- Lamar County Sheriff’s Department (903) 737-2400
- Paris Police Department (903) 784-6688
- Reno Police Department (903) 785-1744
- Red River County Sheriff’s Department (903) 427-3838
- Clarksville Police Department (903) 427-3836
- Bogota Police Department (903) 632-0772
- Texas Department of Public Safety 844-643-2251
Angela Bates is a bilingual Forensic Interviewer and Victim Advocate at The Children’s Advocacy Center of Paris. Ms. Bates has conducted over 600 forensic interviews during her four years at The Children’s Advocacy Center.