Human trafficking is a systemic problem across the United States and that includes right here in Central Texas.
Millions of children and teens run away from home every year putting them at high risk of falling prey to human traffickers.
According to research done by Humantraffickingsearch.org, 1 in 5 homeless and runaway youth become victims of human or sex trafficking.
It’s a statistic that law enforcement deals with all too often.
”Our children that are being trafficked and are being exploited sexually, 9 out of 10 times, they have a history of being a runaway,” said Det. Joseph Scaramucci with the McLennan County Sheriff's Office.
Sometimes, youths fall prey to human trafficking even before becoming a runaway.
”It’s common to find where that have been trafficked, unfortunately by parents or caretakers and then they end up becoming runaways and involved in the criminal justice system.” said Det. Scaramucci.
An abusive or unstable homelife is a leading cause for children and teens to runway and many of them are appointed a CASA or, Court Appointed Special Advocate.
Sadly, the aftermath of human trafficking is something CASAs deal with on a regular basis.
"One child that one of my seasoned coworkers dealt with, actually ended up calling her from a hospital because she was stabbed after they released her,” said Sarah Beaty, CASA Advocate Supervisor.
Being there for children that have entered the foster care system is what a CASA does. That means working with families and parents, especially when it comes to communication.
"Sometimes running away is because they get used to hiding things. So, trying to create an atmosphere where children can talk to you,” said Beaty.
The first step in preventing a runaway youth from becoming the next victim of human trafficking starts with figuring out why that child is running away in the first place.
"There’s something they’re running from and being able to look back at what’s causing that and really get in and fix the root of the issue,” said Det. Scaramucci.
Too many young adults in America fall prey to human trafficking with runaways among the highest percentage.