LAWTON, OK (KSWO) - State law enforcement agencies and experts in the field showed parents how they can protect their children from the nationwide problem of human trafficking in a seminar held at the Hilton Garden Inn.
Michael Snowden with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics said there is a misconception among Oklahomans that the issue worse here because of the three major cross-country interstate highways that intersect in Oklahoma City. People believe that criminals come in from across the country to snatch their victims and take them hundreds of miles from home, but he said that's far from the truth.
"These are local girls," Snowden said. "These are Oklahoma girls generally and boys who are being trafficked by Oklahoma boys and girls."
He said it's difficult to put a number on the amount of human trafficking or sex trafficking activity in the state because it's an underground job. But they know at least 95% of those who are trafficked are girls, and about 250 victims got help from state agencies over the past three years.
When it comes to the criminals who are luring these young people, they don't often follow the Hollywood version of a random violent kidnapping of an unsuspecting child.
Whitney Anderson with the Human Trafficking Unveiled organization says the traffickers usually search for troubled kids online.
"They look for youth who are vulnerable is certain ways," Anderson said. "So, if they say for instance 'I'm in a fight with my mom today or my friends treated me poorly today' traffickers will look for those types of things and they'll try to swoop in and a friend or whatever to that person so they can exploit them."
Kim Osmani with the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services said the goal of events like this is to change the perception of human trafficking by sharing some of the disturbing and violent experiences that the victims have endured, in order to increase a sense of urgency to crack down on the problem.
"The more that we can educate and show them real life examples and talk with them about scenarios hopefully the stronger they'll be and the more aware they'll be looking for these signs so that they can help themselves or somebody else," Osmani said.
Another thing the officials discussed in the presentation is that victims are hard to spot, and so are the traffickers. They come from all types of backgrounds, but if a person does come across a victim, it's important to get them out of that situation as quickly as possible and make them realize help is available.