KATY MAGAZINE NEWS
July 2, 2021
By Natalie Cook Clark
Local authorities and nonprofits continue to work to identify Katy area human trafficking crimes while working to educate the public. There is concern that the increase in students being online during the pandemic could lead to an increase in grooming exposure.
“Human trafficking and situations that lead to it such as grooming are skyrocketing all over due to COVID because more kids have been online for school,” explains Angela Maskevich, Family Guides Program Director for locally based nonprofit, Childproof America.
More Students Online Increases Exposure to Grooming
The pandemic has made more people dependent on virtual programs, especially students who have been doing virtual school.
According to Maskevich, the average age of kids getting smart phones has dropped to 10 years of age. It’s through technology, games, and applications that authorities are finding that traffickers connect with potential victims.
“Traffickers understand this is a form of communication and they are very good at it,” says Maskevich, who says that filters even make it easier for adults to appear as children.
“Human trafficking is not seasonal because the internet isn’t seasonal,” adds Maskevich,.
A Difficult Crime to Identify
Local authorities are always looking out and trying to identify these crimes, even though it’s admittedly hard to track.
“This is a horrible situation for the victims of these crimes and, for several reasons, is also a difficult crime to identify,” says Harris County Constable Ted Heap. “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.”
Constable Heap stresses that Precinct 5 is committed to working to fight human trafficking criminals. He says this has been a priority since he 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,” says Constable Heap.
According the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Texas ranks number 2 in human trafficking reports.
The top states with the highest reports of these crimes are California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Ohio.
For Katy families, education is key to understanding and identifying these crimes. That’s why Katy mom and resident, Kelly Litvak founded Childproof America and serves as its executive director. Litvak was inspired to help others after her family was impacted by human trafficking in 2016, right here in Katy
Childproof America Offers Services, Resources
Last year, Childproof America added even more services and resources to help local families. The Family Guides Program and National Support Line are both aimed to support and aid local families and help them navigate the pathways associated with human trafficking exploitation and recovery.
“If any family has questions, we are here for them,” says Maskevich. “We help them understand grooming.”
The Family Guides Program will match families two family guide volunteers. These fully vetted and trained volunteers will be their “point of contact” to help navigate human trafficking and recovery.
“The concept was inspired by Kelly (Litvak) and what she experienced,” says Maskevich. “A trained family guide can help ease the stress of crisis by helping navigate the different paths necessary for recovery and healing of their child and the family.”
The Family Guides program currently services Katy, The Woodlands, Sugar Land, and the Memorial area.
To contact the Family Guides Program, call 1-833-5-INTAKE (1-833-546-8253) or visit their website.
Childproof America also has a National Human Trafficking Family Support Line.
A family from anywhere in the U.S. can reach out for support, resources or become empowered by gaining a better understanding of human trafficking and exploitation,” says Maskevich.
The National Human Trafficking Family Support Line is operated by trained family guides who address questions on grooming, human trafficking tactics, online and social media exploitation, law enforcement direction as well as provide helpful resources.
The trained volunteers also offer emotional support to families seeking crisis resolution.
The Support Line at 1-833-CP-GUIDE (1-833-274-8433) is monitored Monday to Friday, 8a.m.-8p.m. Calls made after hours will be returned the following business day.
Both services are just finishing up their first quarter and Maskevich says while they don’t have statistics, yet they do know that they have made a difference. They had a parent call questioning messages they found on their child’s Fortnite game.
Childproof America says they have helped identify grooming situations to help families prevent a trafficking situation. By working with parents and local authorities they were part of assisting in finding a missing child in 10 days.
Read more about Childproof America and the Litvaks' journey to help victims of human trafficking.
Katy Police Department Response Recently the Katy Police Department released a statement regarding this subject.
“We want to ensure the citizens that child safety is of the utmost importance to the City of Katy,” states the Katy Police Department. “Katy PD has no outstanding missing juveniles and 100% of those that have been reported have been recovered.”
Katy Police Department
They shared a graph supporting their statement but said that this only represents the incorporated city of Katy limits. The greater Katy area includes Harris County, Fort Bend County, and parts of Waller.
According to the Texas Center for the Missing and Houston’s Amber Alert system, there are 37,023 missing children across the state.
“A missing person is a person, adult, or child who has disappeared, voluntarily or involuntarily,” states the Katy Police Department. “If you are unable to find the person immediately, contact the police. Don’t wait, especially if the person is vulnerable.”