SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) — A campaign to open dialogue about human trafficking dangers on social media between parents and children kicked off in San Antonio Thursday.
Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott gave remarks along with a representative from the McCain Institute and local leaders with the Alamo Area Anti Human Trafficking Coalition. Cindy McCain was originally planned to speak, but airport delays precluded her from getting to San Antonio.
“As our children spend more time on the internet, the crime of online enticement continues to grow — but we can help shine a light on this darkness and help parents protect their children and teens,” Cecilia Abbott said. “It begins with raising awareness and educating parents and caregivers on the danger signs, and then giving them the tools to fight back.”
The billboards for the R.E.A.L Friends Don’t campaign will be seen in over 70 cities around Texas. The campaign aims to give parents and guardians easy conversation starters about how easily predators target children through social media.
“Long gone are the days of a man in a windowless van,” Erin Barry, Chairwoman of Youth Center of Texas, a transitional living program for the victims of child trafficking who are between the ages of 18 and 22.
She said that a predator’s best weapon is a lie, noting predators targeting children through social media merely need to learn about what they are unhappy about. Once predators identify those things, she said they make promises to fix their problems.
Just this week, a 15-year-old girl from Frio County was brought home this week after she ran away to Florida with a 38-year-old convicted felon that made contact with the teen through Snapchat and PlayStation Network.
Open communication is the best tool to combat this type of common predatory behavior and the billboard campaign is aimed at targeting parents and guardians who may be less internet-savvy.
The campaign is a collaboration between Governor Greg Abbott’s GRACE (Governor Response Against Child Exploitation) initiative and the McCain Institute with support locally by the Alamo Area Anti Human Trafficking Coalition.
The Governor’s Office has a variety of resources aimed at helping victims of human trafficking and their families, including advocacy programs, therapy, and housing assistance. Resources can be accessed through aacat.org.