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64 Arrested for Human Trafficking; How Do We Keep Our Children Safe?


KATY MAGAZINE NEWS

August 17, 2019

By Jennifer Miko

After 64 people associated with human trafficking were arrested, local law enforcement agents pointed to the imminent dangers on social media. They strongly urged the community, parents and teachers to be more vigilant to protect our children - because there’s no doubt that human trafficking is happening here.

Photo courtesy Fort Bend County District Attorney's Office

Operation Freedom

Last month, the Fort Bend County Constable’s Office, Precinct 3, and the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office joined with the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance member law enforcement agencies to conduct “Operation Freedom.”

This operation marked the first time the Fort Bend Country Constable’s office has taken an active role in enforcing human trafficking laws.

In a press conference held Friday morning at the Fort Bend County Constable's Office, Precinct 3 in Katy, Constable Wayne Thompson said, “We have proven that even in our area, which is one of the fastest growing and also very affluent, that we can have these issues. We will address them, we will come for you and we will arrest you and you will be prosecuted in Fort Bend County.”

Arrests and Rescues

“Operation Freedom” lasted three weeks and resulted in 64 arrests. More importantly, the operation led to the rescue of at least five adults and two Fort Bend County female juveniles, between 15-17 years old, from sex trafficking.

Over the course of the operation, suspects were charged with promotion of prostitution, compelling prostitution, various narcotics charges, evading, fraud, forgery and failure to identify. After the 64 are further investigated, additional charges may be brought.

Danny Le, a Houston Police Officer since 1997, was among the arrested. He was relieved of duty on Tuesday, and posted a $500 bond early Wednesday morning. Four criminal gang members were also arrested during the operation.

Social Media Victims

During the press conference, speakers reiterated how young people are being recruited through social media.

“The traffickers are very sophisticated," said Sherri Zack with the U.S. Attorney's Office. "They know how to use social media. Their weapon is a cellphone. And they will continue to wield that weapon as long as they can and as often as they can.”

“90% of the grooming practices for human trafficking occur online and parents need to be very aware of social media applications that their children use and know who they’re talking to,” said Sergeant Wall. “There’s no question that it’s occurring in the high school level, all the way from inside the city of Houston and all the way out into the suburbs.”

Watching Our Children

Online resources are available for parents and teachers to educate themselves about human trafficking – to see warning signs and how to respond. At the press conference, officials stressed that children as young as junior high, because they’re vulnerable and impressionable, can be targeted, and the traffickers are using other children as recruiters.

“Teachers need to be on the lookout for the signs of the grooming that’s going on," said Zack. "As a community we have to make sure that we are all vigilant and if we see changes in our students, in our children, in their friends, that don’t seem to fit the normal pattern, we need to ask questions.”

“Parents have the right and responsibility to monitor their children’s social media use. They have access to the whole world, not just the playground,” said Sergeant Wall. “Parents need to be vigilant, monitor what their children are doing. Children do not understand the risk involved.”

Diligent Law Enforcement Agents

“The more we look, the more victims we find,” said Sergeant Wall.

In the greater Houston area last year the human trafficking rescue alliance, along with its partners rescued 400 victims of human trafficking, and arrested 211 perpetrators. Sergeant Wall said they will continue to run more of these operations.

“If you are in Fort Bend County and committing these offenses, your time is up,” said Brian Middleton, Fort Bend County District Attorney. We’re coming for you and we will be relentless.”

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