Slavery may be going on in your neighborhood. It happened in mine. Texas is a major hub for human trafficking per a report released today by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. One out of every five victims of human trafficking have been in or travelled through Texas. The Department of Justice includes Houston and El Paso, which both lie along Interstate 10, in its list of “most intense trafficking jurisdictions in the country.”
How big a problem is human trafficking? “The Texas Response to Human Trafficking” report says:
The U.S. Department of State’s most recent Trafficking in Persons Report estimates that approximately 800,000 victims are trafficked across international borders each year. Of those victims, between 14,500 and 17,500 are trafficked into the U.S. from Asia, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe. These figures do not include the large number of victims trafficked within their own countries, including domestic victims in the U.S. The State Department also estimates that of those trafficked internationally, 80 percent are female and 50 percent are children.
The report distinguishes human trafficking from smuggling, which is usually done with the participant’s consent. Human trafficking victims:
…Are forced to work in domestic servitude, sweatshops, agricultural industries and the commercial sex trade, which includes prostitution, exotic dancing, pornography and live-sex shows. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, human trafficking victims can be found working in ordinary locations, including hotels, restaurants and private residences, and are often “hiding in plain sight.”
I lived in a very nice neighborhood a few years back and was shocked to find out that there was a house a block over from mine where it was discovered that a prostitution ring was being run. These girls were human trafficking victims. We may see these people, but we don’t know the suffering they are enduring. Often they are brought to the U.S. on promises of good work, but then are forced into prostitution to pay over-inflated expenses and even to pay for drugs these women are forcibly given. These young women and even children have no way out.
The Texas report cites a 2001 University of Pennsylvania study, which:
…estimated that between 244,000 and 325,000 U.S. children and youth are ’at risk’ of becoming victims of sexual exploitation, including as victims of commercial sexual exploitation (e.g. child pornography, juvenile prostitution, and trafficking in children for sexual purposes).
In October 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to protect human trafficking victims. The goals of this act are to prevent human trafficking abroad, to protect victims and help them rebuild their lives, and to harshly prosecute traffickers. Over the next five years, 42 federally-funded Bureau of Justice Assistance task forces were created in the U.S. to combat human trafficking, with 5 of those being in Texas (Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, El Paso, Houston, and San Antonio).
According to the report, Texas was “…one of the first states to introduce legislation criminalizing human trafficking. Introduced in 2003 and amended in 2007, the state statute is relatively new and largely untested.” Some of the findings in the report:
• The need for training permeates the entire cycle of human trafficking, from the early detection of the crime, investigation and subsequent prosecution, to the delivery of services and ultimately to the prevention of the crime, and is vital for educating and cross-training all those working to assist victims of human trafficking.
• Human trafficking is often confused with human smuggling, and victims are often treated as criminals.
• Sex trafficking is often confused with prostitution, and victims are often treated as criminals.
• The state statute is rarely utilized to prosecute human trafficking violations.
• The perception exists that only foreign nationals become human trafficking victims, and there are significant incidents of domestic trafficking within Texas and between states.
• Collaboration among state and federal law enforcement agencies promote better prosecution, protection and prevention of human trafficking violations.
I applaud the State of Texas for taking human trafficking seriously and seeking ways to help victims of this horrendous crime. Just as it happened in my suburban neighborhood, you could be living amongst or interacting with people who are in the throes of being treated as a slave. If you notice something that doesn’t look right to you, I urge you to have the courage to report it. You may just save a life.