By David Boatright
Texas Insider Report: AUSTIN, Texas – Texas has a particular area of need for services related to missing and exploited children. Because of the large Texas-Mexico border, the state is home to hubs of human trafficking, including international and domestic child sexual trafficking.
In 2011, 47,313 Texas children were reported missing to law enforcement. Texas has the second largest number of registered sex offenders in the nation (approximately 68,500). Over 1,000 offenders are currently serving time in state facilities for child sexual exploitation crimes.
As the official Texas-based representative for the full complement of services and programs offered by NCMEC, the Texas Regional Office’s primary focus is to:
- Offer training for law enforcement and prosecutors with a particular emphasis on Internet or technology related crimes against children, and
- Work closely with government and non-governmental organizations in prevention and education programs to educate members of the community about child safety.
Recognizing a complex need to better support the community, schools, children and law enforcement, two businesswomen and prominent Texans, M. Diane Allbaugh and Jan Bullock, led the effort to create the Texas Regional Office in 2007.
As a branch office of NCMEC, case management services are also provided to law enforcement and families responding to a missing child through teams under the direction of NCMEC’s Missing Children Division.
Child Safety Education
Keeping children safe online requires teaching children, as early as elementary school, to use technologies in a safe, responsible manner. Online safety education in schools and the community is a key component to preparing young children to identify and avoid harmful situations online. With the recent national attention on cyberbullying, schools and communities now recognize the severe effects of online harassment that follow a child outside school and into the home, and even into new communities.
The realm of internet child safety is multi-faceted, however.
Surveys of youth ages 12-17 indicate that almost one in every ten children will be sexually solicited online. One out of every 25 children online will receive aggressive solicitations in which a solicitor will ask to meet them in real life, call them on the phone, show up at their home or send them offline mail, money or gifts. More than half of the children solicited will never tell anyone — not a parent, teacher, sibling or even friend — about the solicitation.
Educating the elementary age students about safe online behaviors, including teaching children not to trust everyone they meet online, has never been more crucial. NCMEC’s NetSmartz® programs begin with animated, child-friendly and interactive elementary school materials and advance to increasingly realistic Tween & Teen programs.
Community and School-Based Programs
The Texas staff crisscrosses the Lone Star State delivering NCMEC’s nationally-recognized educational and prevention programs such as NetSmartz® and Take 25®. Texas H.B. 1942 requires schools to address cyberbullying in their health curriculum, but public education resources are perpetually thin. NetSmartz offers free, age-appropriate resources (presentations, videos, interactive games, handouts and discussion sheets) that address not only cyberbullying, but sexting, online predators, reputation management on social networks and identity theft.
In 2011 alone, the office held NetSmartz workshops to promote online safety for more than 11,000 children and 240 organizations. Some 100,000 pieces of child safety literature were distributed to concerned parents, caregivers, child advocates as well as children themselves.
Recently, the second largest school district in Texas — Dallas Independent School District — as well as the fastest-growing school district in the state — Edinburgh Consolidated School District — formally adopted NetSmartz as their official child safety training program. For school districts interested in implementing NetSmartz, both the programming itself as well as on-sight train-the-trainer courses for teachers, counselors and media & technology professionals are offered at no cost by the Texas Regional Office.
Texas Law Enforcement Education
The Texas Regional Office provides high-quality and cost-effective training for law enforcement and prosecutors with a particular emphasis on Internet-related crimes. Recently, the office has received state approval for a 16-hour best-practices course for law enforcement officials in this field. Investigating Internet-related crime cannot be stressed enough when child sex exploitation and trafficking are often discovered via child pornography.
Investigating child sexual exploitation cases often requires specialized technical skills outside the scope of usual investigation methods, as modern child pornography rings have similar hierarchies to traditional organized crime structures. The cases could not be more critical because data shows that investigations are increasingly leading to younger and younger victims.
According to 2011 law enforcement data, 83% of offenders had sexual exploitation images of children under 12 years-old and 19% had sexual images of children younger than 3 years-old.
Child pornography is not just a crime about downloading an image; on average, 1-in-6 of the investigations will lead to an abuser who molested children. Therefore, law enforcement must be prepared for not only the internet-based technical investigations, but identifying and rescuing the children portrayed in the images as well as linking cases to IP addresses and offenders who may have access to other unidentified children.
As the world becomes increasingly mobile, the threats to children are complex and often multi-jurisdictional.
There is simply no greater work in law enforcement than that of keeping children safe. And, there may not be a time in history when it’s been more difficult.
David Boatright is Executive Director of the Texas Regional Office for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Chlidren. For more information, contact the Texas Regional Office at (512)465-2156 or visit www.missingkids.com, www.NetSmartz.org, or www.Take25.org.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), a private, 501.c.3 organization, has operated from its headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, since 1984, and in Texas since 2007, to respond when a child goes missing and rescue victims of sexual exploitation.
The services offered by NCMEC are free of charge and NCMEC fulfills its congressionally mandated mission through several national programs including:
- The National Missing Children’s Hotline (1-800-THE-LOST),
- The Missing Children Division (resources for missing children cases),
- The Case Analysis Division (sex offender tracking, attempted abduction information),
- The CyberTipline (for reporting online child exploitation),
- AMBER Alert (NCMEC validates and transfers alerts to secondary distributors),
- Team H.O.P.E. (volunteer-based family services by individuals who experienced similar events),
- The Child Victim Identification Program (to identify victims of child pornography), and
- Team Adam (providing rapid, on-sight response efforts).