NORTHWEST ARKANSAS (KNWA)– Sex trafficking has been a hot topic in Northwest Arkansas lately and our previous stories on the crime are still garnering attention.
With holiday travel to and from the natural state, we look at how to prevent sex trafficking.
Local law enforcement and anti-sex trafficking professionals say while sex trafficking can happen at places like gas stations, there’s more to it than that.
Gretchen Smeltzer, the executive director of the non profit Into the Light, said most of the victims the group sees say perpetrators are someone they met online, or someone they considered a friend.
“Anytime someone wants to be alone with you, and you don’t know this person well and you don’t feel safe with that individual, it’s always okay to say no,” she said.
She also said Facebook messenger is the main source of connection she sees between perpetrators and victims.
“They can step into your life and seem like a good friend, someone that really cares about you, and their purpose is to connect with you to exploit you,” she said.
Although sex trafficking often happens online, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be wary when traveling this holiday season.
Keith Foster, the public information officer at the Rogers Police Department said, “If you have to go to a gas station late at night, as you pull in, one of the things we tell people to do is just scan the area, scan everything.” He said to ask yourself, “Does every thing look alright?”
Foster said you are the most vulnerable when you are alone, so travel together, and during the day time.
He said, “If I’m a bad guy and I’m looking for someone to prey on, or to steal from, what I’m looking for is someone who’s not paying attention, someone who’s standing there looking at their phone.”
Foster also said the best defense is to stay alert and when you stop to get gas or rest during your trip, and aim for stations and rest stops that are well lit and heavily populated.
You are encouraged to report any suspicious activity to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, at (888) 373-7888.
Advocates will walk you through the steps of reporting sex trafficking.
You can also text the word help to 233733.