The Woodlands – They are amazing, beautiful and photogenic. They consist of leaders, advocates, law enforcement and some survivors who all assembled at a recent photoshoot in The Woodlands to draw attention to an ongoing problem in our community.
“Human trafficking does not have boundaries. It does not have a demographic,” said Kelly Litvak, founder of Childproof America.
The group of people was brought together by Childproof America, a nonprofit organization that assists families whose children have been targeted by sex traffickers.
“To say, ‘You know what, we have been victimized but we are victorious now,” said Litvak. “In our victory is unity.’”
Teresa J. Helm, who was a part of the photoshoot, was sexually abused as a child and then as an adult when she was trafficked by convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Her path to survival has taken decades, but she is now an advocate for those who are abused.
“Through that journey of fighting back for myself and healing, that’s what I feel really enables me to bring a lot to the table,” Helm said.
If you’re wondering just how pervasive the sex trafficking and exploitation of minors are today, numbers show that out of more than 23,500 runaways reported to the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children in 2018, one in seven were likely victims of child sex trafficking.
The center also says that in 2020, the number of possible “online enticement” of minors was on pace for 40,000 reports. That would be more than double the yearly average (16,000) of such reports over the previous four years.
Litvak founded Childproof America after her own family walked through the perils of sex trafficking.
She said parents and guardians can prevent more cases by knowing the warning signs.
Experts say the grooming process can take one to two years with traffickers exploiting kids who have experienced trauma, introducing illegal substances to cause addiction, and isolating minors from loved ones.
“It’s all about gaining that trust and very methodically,” Litvak described. “And very slowly separating that target from friends and family.”
Helm echoed that statement.
“Their goal is to isolate a child or to make them feel that they’re not respected or valued by their parents,” she said.
Child traffickers respect no income level, ethnicity, or zip code. Females are exploited more than males, but all children can be vulnerable. It will take more than a flash in time to eliminate the problem, but this group is busy framing a strategy for victory.
“Coming together, unified for one cause,” said Litvak. “And that is to defeat the devastation of human trafficking.”
As part of their efforts to educate families and the wider community, Childproof America will be hosting a two-day national education summit on human trafficking in January 2022.