Tasha Meyer hopes to change a perception about the sex trafficking of minors in Texas, largely thought of as primarily happening to girls, but it also occurs with boys.
“We want to bring awareness to the public that it happens to boys, too,” Meyer told Breitbart Texas in a phone interview.
Meyer, the mother of three young children, helms Liberty Task Force, a non-profit, grassroots organization located in East Texas which she founded in 2012. The fledgling group’s four-person core team advocates for sex trafficked and at-risk boys, who often come from the foster care system. They offer these youths hands-on educational and restorative counseling tools in a Christian faith-based environment designed to help them overcome traumatic sexual victimization.
In 2012, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported 67 percent of children used in sex trafficking that year were in social services or foster care when they ran away. One year later, they noted 1 in 7 endangered runaways were likely used in child sex trafficking.
However, sex trafficking of boys is “vastly underreported,” according to And Boys Too, a 2013 white paper by End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT-USA). In 2008, John Jay College and the Center for Court Innovation’s study The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in New York City estimated as many as 50 percent of sexually exploited children in the United States were boys.
Meyer’s calling to this noble cause came after hearing Christine Caine, co-founder of A21, the anti-human trafficking non-profit organization. She told Breitbart Texas that Caine spoke at her native Illinois church. “When I heard that slavery still exists in the world today I knew that was what I had to be involved in.”
The deeply spiritual Meyer and her husband uprooted from their Midwestern home in 2011. They landed in Tyler, Texas, although, she admitted, “I didn’t know why yet.”
Meyer researched sex trafficking. She learned from Children at Risk’s 2009 report, The State of Human Trafficking in Texas the state was considered the epicenter of human trafficking in the U.S., attributed to the numerous interstate highways, international airports, bus stations, strip clubs, massage parlors, brothels, modeling studios, conventions, major sporting events, truck stops, and other entertainment venues. Children at Risk also called Texas a hotspot for domestic human trafficking because cities like Dallas, Houston, and Austin had many runaway and homeless youth. What continued to stand out to Meyer was how many boys were affected.
Presently, Liberty Task Force works with 10-20 boys each month in their “We are Warriors,” God-based mentoring program for these male minors ages 6-17. She told Breitbart Texas they conduct the program in a Tyler foster shelter. They also offer a Biblically-centered behavior modification “Conquer” series at an area church. This program intends to help adult males kick pornography, often a key component in child sex trafficking. Meyer said they plan to expand this program into the local juvenile detention center.
“Our work with male youth and adult men is to prevent them from becoming perpetrators. This is a big deal to us because it’s the only way to end sex trafficking,” she stated.
Liberty Task Force partners with Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), which rescues child sex trafficking victims around the world. OUR was founded by former CIA and DHS agent Tim Ballard. The two organizations are working together on a sex trafficking sting headed up by Liberty Task Force board member Larry Hunt, a criminal investigator with the Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Office.
“Bags for Boys” is an online fundraiser that allows the non-profit to buy sturdy carry-bags that hold these youngsters personal items. Meyer explained foster children often leave a home with their belongings in a trash bag. Liberty Task Force fills the colorful material sacks with sanitary items, blankets, small toys, and a Bible. Meyer stated they give these bags to foster boys at the homeless shelter.
Liberty Task Force hopes to grow. One of their goals is to establish Liberty House, a safe house where sex trafficked and at-risk foster boys can receive therapeutic, holistic treatment and care.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.