Debi Tengler is the chief relations officer of Arrow Child & Family Ministries and she wants Katy area residents to know that child sex trafficking is alive and unfortunately well in the Katy …
Debi Tengler is the chief relations officer of Arrow Child & Family Ministries and she wants Katy area residents to know that human trafficking, including child sex trafficking, exists in the Katy area. With its position over the I-10 corridor – identified by the FBI as a major hub for human trafficking of all sorts – the Katy area is an ongoing home for child sex trafficking and forced sex trafficking in general, Tengler said at a June 18 meeting of the Katy Christian Chamber of Commerce.
“I’m here to tell you that all what’s going on in our very own backyards,” Tengler said. “This is now the second-largest revenue-generating industry in the nation.”
Tengler said that each child that is trafficked generates about $360,000 per year on average for the person who is trafficking him or her. The average age for a victim of sex trafficking is between 13 and 15-years-old and most only live seven or eight years after they begin being trafficked. About 40% of those trafficked are males and 88% are current or former foster children, Tengler said.
Arrow Child & Family Ministries is social services organization that is also a foster care agency.
The trend is for boys and young men to be victimized more, Tengler said.
“When I first began discussing this topic about six years ago and presenting on it, (males) were only 3%,” Tengler said. “It is estimated that by the end of the year, this statistic will change to 50% of all traffic victims will be males.”
Tengler said that stereotypes keep people from realizing the threat of sex trafficking and other forms of human trafficking in their communities. Area residents in a place like Cinco Ranch or other portions of the Katy area picture low-income streets with blatant prostitution near intersections and dark alley deals, but the reality is much different, she said. Places such as Katy Mills and even Katy ISD campuses are often the starting points for a child being recruited as a victim.
According to a study conducted by the Houston-based Neal Davis Law Firm, Texas ranks second nationally in human trafficking, preceded in rank only by California. Their study, released this past April, indicates that Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Orlando, Miami and Las Vegas are the top five metros for trafficking. Neither Katy nor Houston were ranked in the top 10 cities in their study, though arrests have been made this year in the Katy area related to human trafficking.
One 13-year-old student who attended Katy Junior High School was recruited by a 54-year-old trafficker, Tengler said. The adult predator had groomed the girl over a three-year period online and through a groomer that had been planted at the school, she said. He had then given the young girl a burner cell phone, told her to get a bus ticket to come to meet him, then swiped her away and forced her into prostitution in Mexico City.
While the girl was later rescued from the situation, Tengler said, she never quite recovered. A friend had notified Tengler who had then been able to use her contacts to help locate the trafficking victim. Tengler said the girl had parents that cared for her and had been fighting to keep the girl safe, but had been unsuccessful.
“These rumors (of child sex trafficking) are real. These parents had been a stable family, they’d been fighting to take out WiFi, and remove all resources,” Tengler said.
But the payoff from human trafficking makes it worth the relatively low risk for the modern-day slavers, Tengler said.
"Precinct 5 is committed to working to fight human trafficking criminals. Since I took office in 2017, we have helped a number of victims of trafficking escape their captors, but there is still a lot of work to be done in this fight," said Harris County Constable for Precinct 5 Ted Heap. "This is a horrible situation for the victims of these crimes and, for several reasons, is also a difficult crime to identify. I would urge anyone who believes they may have encountered a human or sex trafficking victim or perpetrator, please call your local law enforcement agency to report it."
There are ways for the community to help, Tengler said. She said the first step is for residents to be informed and aware of what is going on in the community. Additionally, parents should be informed about the dangers and processes associated with human trafficking so that they can protect their children from it.
“Everyone has to have a conversation about this,” Tengler said. “It’s no longer something that we can scoop out, but I want to tell you, there’s hope. … I need you to start knowing what the red flags are of human trafficking. I need you to know that when something doesn’t look right or the hair on the back of your neck stands up – pay attention.”