Mothers whose children were sex trafficking victims speak about warning signs

Mothers want parents to know what to look for, what to do

By Sofia Ojeda - Anchor/Reporter

HOUSTON - Within the last few months, dozens of men and women have been arrested in connection with human trafficking rings in the Houston area.

In April alone, more than 50 people were arrested and two kids were saved after a child sex trafficking sting in the Katy area.

Channel 2's Sofia Ojeda sat down with two mothers whose children were victims. One daughter survived, the other did not.

We spoke with those two mothers. Both of their children were trafficked several years ago by someone they knew.

The mothers said it didn't happen overnight. It took a long time for the predators to gain their daughters' trust, and when they did, it was too late.

Now, Kelly Litvak and Janiece Charlez want to make sure parents know exactly what to look for and what to do so it doesn't happen to anyone else.

"She's a goofball. She had a crazy sense of humor. She loved her music. She loved to journal," Charlez said.

Charlez's youngest daughter, Natalie, loved her family. She wanted to be a teacher. But Natalie was killed in 2016 at the age of 21.

Charlez believes Natalie was the victim of sex trafficking. Police believe she was killed by her trafficker. Her murder is still unsolved.

"She was killed here in Houston, and they dumped her body on Holmes Road," Charlez said.

Charlez thinks it all started years ago when Natalie was in high school. Her boyfriend at the time started grooming her when she was just 15 years old.

"He groomed her, gained her trust and then turned her over to her traffickers," Charlez said.

Looking back, Charlez said she did notice red flags but thought they were part of growing up. Natalie was rebellious. Her mom was getting calls that she was skipping school.

"You don't know what's going on, and you're just trying to keep up with that behavior," Charlez said. "We had her in counseling. We had her hospitalized. What is going on?"

Natalie left home. Charlez tracked her through her online sex ads.

Charlez tried several times to bring Natalie home, but she was just too scared to leave.

"The fear, the trauma bonds, the fear they are going to kill her family," Charlez said.

Litvak had a similar story, but her child survived. Her daughter was also pursued by someone she knew in high school.

"I did not know what human trafficking was at all," said Litvak, founder of Childproof America. "I started looking for resources for parents online, and I was so surprised that I didn't find anything."

She set out to change that. Litvak said when she was in panic mode, there was nowhere to go for help.

So she started Childproof America.

"It is a place to very specifically, No. 1, let parents understand what this issue looks like, because if you understand what the behaviors are that your child will display when they are in the grooming stage, then you can step in and really navigate your child out of that situation," Litvak said.

Litvak said it usually starts with someone the child knows, an acquaintance or a friend. They're called the spotter.

"They slowly and very non-threatening come in and start up that relationship. 'Hey, how you doing? Your boyfriend broke up with you? I mean, look at you. You're beautiful,'" Litvak said.

Stage 1: Predators go online and search for children going through a life-changing event, such as a breakup, parents' divorce or a death in the family.

Stage 2: They gain the child's trust and separate them from peers and family, introducing them to drugs and alcohol.

Stage 3: They capitalize. This is when your child will leave with their trafficker.

Litvak said all this can take years but there are warning signs. Your child suddenly has expensive clothing or purses. They may start acting rebellious and skipping school.

Knowing who your child is interacting with, where they're going and where to find help can stop trafficking before it starts.

"Our Family Guides Program will match a family in crisis with a trained volunteer who will be their point person through their crisis," Litvak said.

Childproof America will also help families just getting out of the trafficking nightmare. It will put them in contact with the right medical doctors or help find them a place to stay.

Click here for more information.

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