The International Labor Organization estimates that sex trafficking claims 4.5 million victims globally, with hundreds of thousands in the United States alone.
Data collected from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline places Texas second in the nation in human trafficking, and in an interview with KSAT 12, Chuck Paul, a former CPS investigator, called San Antonio a “hub” of trafficking activity, but few San Antonians know that this problem even exists in our community.
Other than the high percentage of victims who are homeless or in foster care, potential victims are difficult to identify because there is no typical profile: anyone can be a victim. The only universal commonality is vulnerability.
The target demographic for recruitment is children in middle school. Minors are the most desirable victims for traffickers as their youth makes them naïve and vulnerable. Pimps are masters of manipulation; they exploit people struggling with loneliness and insecurity by offering false love, affirmation and safety. Even children in secure, loving homes are targets of internet recruitment. One in five children who use the internet will be sexually solicited.
Adults, too, can fall prey to online threats. Fake job offers are one of the most commonly used methods of adult recruitment. In Texas, many trafficking victims are lured from Mexico with false promises of legitimate employment once they cross the border.
Once the victim is in the trafficker’s grasp, pimps use a variety of methods to maintain control over their victims such as abuse, rape, substance addictions or even withholding food, water and vital medications.
Between long work hours, harsh conditions and frequent abuse, most victims are too weak, afraid and demoralized to attempt escape.
The public is a valuable tool in the identification and rescue of victims.
To help the public identify victims, the Alamo Youth Center Inc. provides a list of mental and physical indicators that characterize trafficking victims.
Health of a Trafficked Person
Trafficked persons are often treated as disposable possessions without much attention given to their mental or physical health.
Accordingly, they often have health problems that include:
•Malnutrition, dehydration or poor personal hygiene
•Sexually transmitted diseases / Signs of rape or sexual abuse
•Bruising, broken bones or other signs of untreated medical problems
•Untreated chronic illnesses (diabetes, asthma, infections)
•Post-traumatic stress and other psychological disorders
Know your ABC’s
How to identify human trafficking…Awareness
You, your friends, your family, coworkers, people you do business with, everyone should be aware of the signs!
•Clothing may be too sexual, wrong size, not appropriate for the weather or place they are, or less expensive than the persons they are with. They also have few personal items.
•Victims may have “Branding” tattoos.
•Signs of poor hygiene; may look sick or use makeup to cover injuries.
How to identify human trafficking…Behavior
•Victims may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
•May be disoriented or confused, fearful, timid or submissive.
•No eye contact, looking at their feet or back to another person.
•Unease where there is visible security or law enforcement.
•May become verbally vulgar when challenged by an authority figure (watch for fight, flight & freeze).
How to identify human trafficking…Communication
•Often, victims can’t provide details about where they came from or where they are going.
•Their answers appear rehearsed, and they will become nervous or angry if pressed for details.
•They appear to look to a companion for answers and they seem to be under that person’s control; they may be closely watched or followed.
What to do when you see Human Trafficking?
•Never attempt to intervene or take the victim out of the situation by force!
•Call 911 and tell the dispatcher you are reporting suspected human trafficking, if the victim is a child tell the dispatcher.
•Become a good witness: look at details, colors, vehicle descriptions, direction of travel, hotel room numbers, etc.
•If possible, use your cell phone to take very discreet photos.
•After you report to the police, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-373-7888
•Text details to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at BeFree (233733)
While some operations stay localized, most routinely transport trafficking victims between multiple cities to expose them to new markets (which results in) highly mobile trafficking operations that are fluid and challenging to investigate and interdict.To shut down such operations requires communication of intelligence between police forces in different cities and a high sensitivity to possible indicators of a trafficking situation.
Police forces are growing in their knowledge of these operations, but traffickers are growing wiser in parallel.
To outpace them, more resources, time and thought need to be devoted to this cause.Fortunately, more people are recognizing this problem and directing their efforts toward a solution.
Alamo Area Coalition Against Trafficking is a coalition of governmental, non-governmental and community-based organizations that exists to prosecute offenders, prevent future exploitation and serve current victims of human trafficking.
In 2009, Texas created the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force, which is chaired by the Texas Attorney General and focuses solely on preventing this crime.
The solution cannot end there.
Without rehabilitation and recovery resources, sex trafficking almost universally ruins the lives of those affected by it. If victims do not die from enslavement or imprisonment, they perish from addiction or harsh conditions.Only four places in Texas are available for victims of sex trafficking to find help in the aftermath of their suffering; currently, these organizations cannot house even 100 victims.There is a great need for more resources for survivors of trafficking, and a few organizations are blazing a trail to provide them.
Ransomed Life is an organization whose goal is to help victims successfully recover from trafficking. They provide education and mentorship to girls who have been trafficked and raise funds to build a facility for girls to recover and grow in safety.
Another organization dedicated to creating a safe space for victims is called Alamo City Youth Center.
If these organizations achieve their goals it would mean a world of difference for the many victims here in San Antonio and across Texas.
In order for that to happen, more people are needed to volunteer, donate and raise awareness.
Sex trafficking is not just an issue in developing countries: It is here in Texas, in our own city.
It is up to us to help prevent this crime, aid those trapped in it and rehabilitate survivors.
We can help by spreading awareness, volunteering to help those most at risk and contributing to the rehabilitation efforts of others.
We can be voices for those who need us.
With education, involvement and awareness, we can take steps toward the eradication of this crime and brighten the future of survivors.
For more information on sex trafficking, signs of trafficking or how to report trafficking, go to http://traffickingresource center.org.