Grooming tactics and social media: How human traffickers target vulnerable young people

Grooming tactics and social media: How human traffickers target vulnerable young people
Published: Sep. 7, 2023 at 11:29 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - This summer, several cases involving sex trafficking have made their way to East Texas courts.

In July, Desnique Deshawn Herndon went to trial, charged with six counts of sex trafficking of children and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of children. He was found guilty.

And in August, Korwin Jerard Jones was tried for accusations of human trafficking in Smith County. Jones was also found guilty.

One thing the trials revealed was the process these traffickers used to target their victims, and in most cases, it started through social media.

Records from Homeland Security Investigation’s Dallas office show that last year in North Texas, 131 human trafficking arrests were made, with 82 victims recovered.

Supervisory Special Agent John Perez said traffickers will often peruse through social media, looking to target a vulnerability or need in the victim’s life, whether it be need of attention, money or a roof over their heads. In some cases, it can even develop into “romantic” relationships.

“So it’ll start off very innocent. You know, ‘you’re beautiful, and I love this picture of you, man. You should come and model for me.’ Right. And they kind of use that very innocent approach to get the victim engaged. And once the victim’s engaging, then they’ll start to ramp up their grooming and their manipulation.

According to Agent Perez, signs of trafficking in victims can be withdrawal from normal activities, possession of unexplained money, or luxury items, or dressing more sensually or sexually.

Preventative matters begin with informing and taking action. Here’s agent Perez’s message to parents.

“You need to engage your children and look at who they’re talking to on social media to get on to the applications, get on to their phone. Don’t look at it as an invasion of privacy.”

Now, if you believe you’ve encountered a sex-trafficking case, it is recommended to never approach individuals, but instead call the non-emergency line to your local police department.

Another great resource is a tip-line the Department of Homeland Security provides for people to report suspicious criminal activity. The line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can call 1-866-347-2423, where a highly-trained specialist will take your report.