AUSTIN (KXAN) — With the arrest of the Dallas-based Backpage.com CEO, many local experts say it won’t stop the demand for sex trafficking. Shutting down the website and other like it reduces the supply of sex-trafficking victims who have been forced into prostitution, but the demand may still be a major problem.
In any industry, supply and demand are the driving forces. In human trafficking, the demand to purchase sex lies in the hearts and minds of buyers. Put simply, without demand there would be no supply — there would be no customers for traffickers. But those trying to make a difference in the number of children used for sex trafficking say the demand heavily outweighs
“It’s goes on every night, all up and down I-35,” said Steven Phenix with The Refuge, a soon-to-be-built ranch that will provide trauma-informed, long-term restoration shelter and services to girls 11-17 years old, who have been exploited through sex trafficking. “Unfortunately with the availability of pornography, it just kind of stimulates the demand. And it’s rampant.”
Demand is driving the industry. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates in the last five years, the number of child sex trafficking cases on the internet has increased over 800 percent.
One of the biggest problems is attributed to our increased access to the internet.
“I think now that there are those who may not have acted out on it in the past who are acting out on it now because it’s a lot more available because of places like Backpage.com and all the different sites,” said Lt. Robert Richman with the Organized Crime Division of the Austin Police Department.
Some advocacy groups argue, there’s not enough risk associated with the crime and not enough is being done to punish those who commit them.
“These guys should be charged with a federal child sex trafficking crime, they should be on the sex registry for the rest of their lives. But only 40 percent of these cases make it trial and when they do they get a misdemeanor for prostitution not child sex trafficking,” Phenix said.
Detectives working to put offenders behind bars say as a community, people tend to turn a blind eye and act like it’s not happening their own backyard but that only fuels the demand.
“If you could just get as much attention for these crimes as you do for an NFL football game or something like that, it would tremendous for us,” Lt. Richman said.
Richman says just because one site like Backpage.com is gone, doesn’t mean the demand is. So his work to put an end to child sex trafficking in Central Texas continues.
“Is somebody going to fill that void? I believe so. And we are going to be right there to hopefully be one step ahead of them to keep them from doing so,” Richman said.
The Assistant Attorney General says Texas is the second highest in the nation for number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Resources Center, and Houston has the highest number of trafficking victims in the nation.
The Refuge hopes to break ground in October on a ranch in Austin with 48 beds. Phenix says if they can meet their goal of raising $2 million by the end of December, they could be open by the summer of 2017.
“Right now there is only 350 beds nationwide for these children. There’s 13,000 animal shelters, that gives you perspective on how important kids are to us currently.”