WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — To raise awareness and share information about the dangers of human trafficking, the Southern Grit Advocacy group held a Breakfast with the Mayor event Thursday morning, November 10.
At the 7 a.m. breakfast, they discussed how to prevent, disrupt and end human trafficking through education and advocacy.
The group also highlighted the importance of being informed and being able to spread information to others because human trafficking and smuggling can happen anywhere, even in Texoma.
“My takeaway is that it can happen in Wichita Falls; this is not just something that happens in New York City or Dallas or Houston, it can happen in Wichita Falls,” Mayor Stephen Santellana said. “You know young people can get groomed online, we have people taken from parking lots, and we just want to make citizens aware that there are resources out there to help combat this.”
One of the topics Southern Grit Advocacy Executive Director Vicky Payne spoke on was about the difference between trafficking and smuggling.
In a trafficking situation, which is a crime against a person such as force or coercion in a relationship, the trafficked persons are victims.
In a smuggling situation, which typically involves a relationship with the purpose of smuggling people into the country, the smuggled persons are violators.
“It’s important to have a platform such as the group meeting today to be able to share information with a big group of people because the more people you have to share information, the more people get to know, and everybody can learn how to recognize red flags,” Payne said.
“Don’t walk around with blinders on,” Santellana said. “I talked about how I hate thinking that we live in this moment where it’s not gonna happen to us, but it can and it will, so have those uncomfortable conversations with your little ones.”
Santellana also talked about taking the time to learn what to look for.
“There are things, there’s indicators and factors that can show you they’re being groomed,” Santellana said. “Because the people that are doing these things, they’re smart people, they look at your vulnerabilities, and that’s how they get you.”
The Wichita Falls Chief of Police, Manuel Borrego, cautions that the internet can be just as dangerous for human trafficking as the outside world.
“A lot of this has gone online, and that makes it really challenging for law enforcement to locate the victims,” Borrego said. “So you’ll see a lot of law enforcement do operations online to stop predators.”
For more information on resources to combat human trafficking and where to seek help, check out Southern Grit Advocacy’s website.