By Indira Zaldivar & Edward Saenz
Social media serves as one of the modern strategies employed by human traffickers to groom and recruit victims.
Human trafficking, a contemporary form of slavery, warrants increased awareness as criminals generate billions of dollars annually by coercing individuals into exploitative and illicit activities.
In recognition of Human Trafficking Awareness Month, the Houston Police Department cautioned the public about potential indicators of human trafficking through social media and provided safety recommendations for online activities.
“Social media is the platform most used by traffickers to identify the vulnerabilities of victims,” stated Houston Police Department Officer Mayra Seay.
Traffickers often target vulnerabilities such as unemployment and lack of social safety nets. Additionally, they entice victims with false friendships or promises of a luxurious lifestyle or better job opportunities.
To reduce vulnerability on social media, Seay emphasized the crucial recommendation of rejecting friend requests from strangers and verifying the authenticity of profiles sending such requests. Safety guidelines include refraining from sharing personal information, intimate photos, and identifying details online, as predators may exploit this sensitive information to coerce victims.
“Traffickers use social media to recruit their victims,” Seay explained. “If a profile is not private, they can see what victims like and enjoy doing for fun. They use that information to approach the victim and establish a friendship.”
“When the victim trusts that person, they then use that information to try to make false promises, lure them out of their homes, and make them victims of human trafficking.”
In January alone, the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance of Southeast Texas rescued 18 people from human trafficking, half of whom were minors, according to Houston Police Department Officer Robert Medel. The youngest victim rescued by HTRA was 13 years old.
“Traffickers do not discriminate based on race, sex, or age,” noted Medel.
For parents and guardians of minors using social media, officers recommended monitoring online activities, including contacts and passwords, cautioning minors about interacting with strangers, and refraining from sharing identifying information online.
Given Houston’s status as a hotspot for human trafficking, the officers encourage individuals, regardless of legal status, to report any suspicions of human trafficking by calling 713-308-8600.