E. Texas police warn parents of sex trafficking dangers

Published: Feb. 3, 2016 at 11:05 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 4, 2016 at 12:19 AM CST
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KILGORE, TX (KLTV) - Many people think sex trafficking only happens in foreign countries and in action movies, but East Texas law enforcement officers say the risk is here, and it's incredibly important for parents and children to know what to look for. An East Texas woman, who was once the victim of sex trafficking, is working to open a center for other women who have been down those paths.

Longview Detective Debra Stiles explains.

"Don't think it can't happen here, because it definitely can happen right here in our own backyards."

Teresa Richenberger knows too well the dangers.

"In my case, I was in the industry for 12 years. From the time I was 17 until I was 28."

Richenberger is opening Rahab's Retreat, a residential community for East Texas sex trafficking victims who are trying to get back on their feet.

"They will have come from all kinds of backgrounds, sex trafficking, sex industry, strip clubs themselves.."

Richenberger knows better than anyone, the value of awareness and keeping an eye out for people looking to take advantage. She says, "It starts with 'You're beautiful. Hi. Will you be my friend?'"

Detective Stiles says children become very vulnerable when the get online.

 "Social media has changed the way we interact with people; it also changes the way our children interact with other people."

Stiles says, for parents, it is imperative that they monitor those accounts.

 "Whether that means you need to take passwords for every account they have so you can double check it, or that means you need to download some of these parental apps..."

It is just as important for children to be aware of the risks, according to Stiles.

"Kids need to understand that not everyone is who they say they are... Sometimes that new friend is someone who's created a fake account or is looking at that child as a victim."

Those encounters could lead to any number of dangerous situations.

"It can be something as minor as meeting up with a stranger they didn't know and sometimes that relationships can go a lot further.... That opens the door for the children to be exposed to any type of criminal activity."

Richenberger knows the risk all too well.

"Prevention is a huge part, it plays a major part in a young girl's life... Some of these girls get on this track and never get off of it."

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