This blog is part of a series showing the unique ways human trafficking is discussed and present in cities around the world. Want to share about your city? Email Elaine at email@example.com.
Tevon Harris was just 21 years old when he was arrested and charged with multiple charges of child trafficking in Houston, Texas.
He would meet young girls online and gain their trust by talking to them about their goals and dreams. He would tell them that he was going to help them become models and ask to meet up in person. When he picked them up, he took them to hotel rooms, forced them to take drugs, raped them, and took away their phones—cutting off communication with the outside world. He took their photos and posted them online as advertisements for prostitution. Then, he forced them to meet with the people who would buy them online and kept all of the money that they received.
This didn’t happen “over there.” It happened in the same city as the Love146 Texas office. It happened in my hometown.
I hear a lot of misconceptions about child trafficking in the U.S. and in Texas:
- “It’s only illegal immigrants.”
- “It’s usually foreign girls who are abused.”
- “It rarely happens to boys.”
- “It’s usually old men who abuse the children.”
- “The girls are kidnapped and held captive.”
- “It only happens to poor people.”
Let’s look at Tevon Harris’ case once more. Harris was a U.S. citizen and a resident of Houston—as were the minors he abused and exploited. If he abused a minor who was 17, he was only 4 years older than the youth. They probably viewed him as friend when they first met him. After all, he came in like Prince Charming, sweeping the girls off their feet, out of their broken households, and off to become models. He didn’t kidnap them; he gained their trust and exploited it.
This case not only represents the reality of online exploitation but it is a solemn reminder for each of us to play a role in protecting the next generation from these lurking dangers.
I’m a millennial myself, but I can’t imagine growing up as a kid today. My childhood technology consisted of the Oregon Trail, Nintendo 64, and the riskiest one of all: Harry Potter chat rooms dedicated to talking about the plot and speculation on what would happen in the next book. I didn’t even have texting until my senior year of high school—and no one asked me for a sext (a nude picture sent over text message) because my pink flip phone wasn’t even capable of that.
Today, everything has changed. There’s Snapchat, Tinder, Kik, Ask.fm, Whisper, and the list goes on. Stranger danger now lives in our pockets. Youth often aren’t able to think through all the long-term risks or weigh the gravity of how dangerous the internet can be. Tevon Harris is a perfect example of how child trafficking in U.S. is just one click away. It can happen in your city, to your neighbors, to your kids.
Texas is a big state and human trafficking takes on many forms here, but the online exploitation of our youth is becoming an increasing danger. Take time to learn about the issue in your city (check out the Learn section on Love146’s website). Human trafficking may not look the same as the movies and tv shows. Instead, it may come in the form of a Facebook message or friend request.
Take action to care for the youth in your life.
Don’t scold them for their childlike innocence, but instead equip them and build them up. Give them the tools to protect themselves online and to know how to gauge the safety of a situation. Texas is a big state, but the internet is even bigger.