Speaking out to end cyber trafficking - KTEN.com - Texoma news, weather and sports

Speaking out to end cyber trafficking

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GRAYSON COUNTY, Texas -- You can't tell by her smile, but Stephanie Henry-Ricchi is a survivor.

"Everybody is vulnerable, and nobody is vulnerable if we stick together," she said.

After a childhood filled with abuse, she decided to make a difference on a nationwide issue.

"You may not succeed, but why wouldn't you try?" she asked.

The Polaris Project reports 3,186 sex trafficking cases in the United States just this year.

"You go from global, and then into North America, and then into your state, and you get into your county, and get into your community... you'd be really surprised," Henry-Ricchi said.

The State of Texas is ranked 2nd and Oklahoma is 26th for the number of sex trafficking cases reported each year.

"A lot of the myths about human trafficking need to be discussed, because it is here.... it is real," said Shelli Shields of the Grayson County Crisis Center.

This year, four cases of sex trafficking have been reported in Grayson County alone. Three years ago that number was zero.

Social media is identified as a big factor contributing to the rise in trafficking cases, because predators have more access to personal information than ever before.

"It's very much a catalyst for connecting and not knowing who you are actually talking to," Shields said.

These online predators target everyone... especially school-age kids. Henry-Ricchi recounted a typical conversation she's had with a student about online behavior.

Q: "Tell me something: How many friends do you have on Facebook?"

A: "Oh, I have 800-and-something friends."

Q: "How many of those do you really know?"

A: "Well, I know them... and then I know friends of a friend of a friend."

Q: "So you would hang out with how many of those 800 people?"

A: "I don't know... 200?"

Q: "Really?"

A: "Twenty?"

Q: "OK, so the other 780.. what's the point? That's 780 possibly victimizing people... why do you let them in your home?"

Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-4th District) knows the problem all too well, having served as a federal prosecutor.

"I had the misfortune of having to prosecute these cases before running for Congress," he said. "I've authored my own legislation to increase punishment for those that would engage in this," he said.

According to a recent study by the Urban Institute, it's not just your Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram accounts that can put you at risk; online dating sites and chat rooms contribute to the danger of becoming a modern day slave.

But getting away from that danger isn't impossible.

"If you are a victim... and you're viewed obviously victimized... and you're down, and your body language is victimized, find the right moment and become 10 feet tall," Henry-Richie said.

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