Child sex trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world, according to the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work. To make a difference, Austin Oral Surgery has created Dove Projects, which train dental professionals to recognize and report signs of child sex trafficking. To date, the Dove Projects have brought awareness to more than 1,475 dental professionals located throughout central Texas.
“Our goal is to educate the dental community on the warning signs of child sex trafficking, one office at a time,” said Renee Dixon, marketing director at Austin Oral Surgery.
“When you do an oral exam, there can be certain conditions inside the mouth that can indicate a victim, so dental professionals are in a unique position to make a big difference. It’s important that all dental professionals can recognize those factors quickly, particularly if several indicators are present. They also need to know how to help without making the situation more dangerous for the victim,” Dixon said.
Austin Oral Surgery hosts Dove Projects throughout the year. These free, private events are designed to reach the entire dental community, regardless of city, office affiliation, or other differentiators. Dixon says that it doesn’t matter who they work for or where, but what matters is the opportunity to save even one of the 79,000 young people being sex-trafficked in Texas.
The program features free refreshments, a list of indicators to look for, a hotline to call when trafficking is suspected, and a speaker from the Refuge for Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST). The Refuge for DMST is a nonprofit, therapeutic residential community and foster-placement agency for girls age 11 through 19 who have been rescued from sex traffickers.
Dove Projects also include free craft materials so participants can make “dove tiles” for recovering victims.
“It’s a fun and creative activity, and the Refuge for DMST displays the finished doves in the girls’ cottages as a sign of hope and healing, so they’ll know they were thought about long before they arrived at the ranch,” said Dixon.
“Austin Oral Surgery has single-handedly educated the dental community on the warning signs of child sex trafficking, teaching thousands of professionals what to watch for to keep children safe,” said Steven “Flyer” Phenix, director or public relations and communications for the Refuge for DMST. “To my knowledge, there’s not another program like this anywhere in the United States.”