SAN ANTONIO - As massive crowds of people head to downtown San Antonio for the Final Four, child advocates, law enforcement, and volunteers are keeping their eyes open for more than just the games.
"The problem with child sex trafficking goes up during major sporting events. It's a sad reality. There are 12-, 13-, 14-, 15-year-old children out there that are being sold for sex," said Renee Garvens with Roy Maas Youth Alternatives.
Garvens works closely with Bexar County's Juvenile Probation Office to make Centro Seguro possible. It's a 24-hour center for young people who are being trafficked for sex, or are at-risk.
"The Final Four group has been here, they're aware of the opportunity, they're aware of what to watch out for and what to expect, and they're training all of their volunteers and staff to be aware as well," Garvens said.
Garvens said many times buyers don't realize the girl or boy is under 18.
"We know it's significant in San Antonio where we are located on the I-10/I-35 corridor. We are a hub for child sex traffickers," said Garvens.
"Up until now, law enforcement's only option when they remove a child from a dangerous situation - for example, a hotel room - with a trafficker, is to bring them to our detention center," said Erin Barry with Bexar County Juvenile Probation.
Since Centro Seguro opened six months ago, more than 80 children and teenagers have come to the safe space.
"Within 48 hours (of them being) lured or attempted to be lured into trafficking. If we can get runaways off the street and coming here, then we can prevent trafficking from happening," Barry said.
And when it comes to this weekend in San Antonio, Garvens says the more eyes, the better.
"I think it's important for the people who are at the leadership level for these major sporting events to do what the Final Four folks have done, which is to take the problem seriously, get involved, and to train their people," Garvens said.
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