An arrest last week in Beaumont may have surprised some area residents, but not most members of law enforcement. The arrest was for sex trafficking, and many local police officers and sheriff’s deputies know that this crime occurs in our region as well as big cities. Southeast Texans should be aware of this problem — and be alert for signs that could rescue some victim from this growing menace.
The arrest occurred last Thursday when officers responded to a call about a missing juvenile at the Petro truck stop on Walden Road and Interstate10. Police were told that the youth was at a nearby hotel, and after checking several places they found two suspects with two 16-year-old girls, including the one who was reported missing.
That was aggressive police work, and it produced the desired outcome. One of the suspects was also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. But sadly, trafficking is one of those crimes where successes like that are rare. Most victims are trafficked many times before they can finally be rescued or leave on their own.
“It is something that has ballooned and exploded in this area,” said Jefferson County District Attorney Bob Wortham. “I think it is because we are off Interstate 10 between Houston and New Orleans. If you look at the map on where human trafficking is really conducted, we’re in a red section.” Texas was also second only to California for calls made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
That’s something all of us should be concerned with, and it’s also something we can help fight. Hotel clerks and hotel guests as well as patrons at truck stops and other sites that traffickers use should be alert for signs that trafficking could be going on. And if they see something, they should not hesitate to call police — or even 911 if the situation seems urgent enough.
“We ask people to call if you see someone at a motel with a young girl and she looks like she is depressed and in bad shape,” Wortham said. “At least give the police a chance to make a report and go check it out. We had a girl that was in a car going down the street. She was in the back seat and mouthed ‘help me’ to someone that was behind her.”
Other signs to look for are youths in public who are constantly monitored and unable to move freely. Trafficking victims often look to someone else when they’re spoken to or refuse to speak. The youth may be accompanied by a person who appears to be a dominant figure and is usually of a different background. The victim may be inappropriately dressed for the weather and have little or no personal belongings.
Indicators like this can be difficult to discern at times, and not every disheveled youth is a trafficking victim. But as Wortham and offer officials stress, it never hurts to have a police officer or deputy make a polite inquiry. The call may turn out to be nothing, but it also could be everything in the world to someone who desperately needs help.