Today, the globe recognizes World Day Against Trafficking.  WDAT is an annual event promoting awareness and prevention of the human trafficking crisis as a massive worldwide problem. On average, 30 million victims of human trafficking are sold globally. Victims are made up of 51 percent women, 28 percent children and 21 percent men. Statistics also show that forced labor and human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide. Thousands of men, women and children are sold to traffickers every year leaving their families behind and their communities in fear.  

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer and storage of people by using forceful threats, abduction, fraud, deception, and abuse of power. Traffickers receive payments or benefits for controlling people for the purpose of exploitation. Human trafficking is a grave violation of human rights and leads as the third largest international crime.

The purpose of exploiting humans is to use them for prostitution, pornography, forced and child labor, and the removal of organs.

A global industry: How does the process work?

Traffickers look for people who are susceptible for many reasons, including psychological or emotional vulnerability, economic hardship, lacking a social safety net, natural disasters, or political instability. They use violence, manipulation, false promises, or romantic relationships to lure victims into auction.

In order to maintain control over their victims, traffickers turn to rape, physical abuse, food and sleep deprivation, and drug administration to control and condition them. Similar to slavery, victims are locked up and protected by violent guards.

Not only do traffickers threaten captives, but also threaten their families and friends. Blackmail is a common way to keep victims from acting out by threatening to send compromising photos to the victim’s families.

How are victims affected?

Victims who escape are often greatly traumatized about their encounter. Victims are often afraid to report their abuser, making human trafficking a hidden crime. Trafficking can cause psychological damage in which victims struggle with shame, grief, fear, anxiety, inability to trust, and suicidal thoughts.

Recognizing signs of human trafficking is the first step in identifying victims. Below are signs an individual might be a victim of trafficking.

Work and Living Conditions

  • Is under 18 and providing sex acts
  • Is unpaid
  • Works excessively long hours
  • Is not allowed breaks or suffers restrictions at work
  • Is living and working on site
  • Is not paid directly

Poor mental health or abnormal behavior

  • Fearful
  • Anxious
  • Depressed
  • Submissive
  • Tense / nervous
  • Shows signs of substance use or addiction

Poor physical health

  • Shows signs of poor hygiene, malnourishment or fatigue
  • Exhibits signs of physical or sexual abuse
  • Shows signs of confinement

Lack of control

  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is frequently monitored
  • Is not in control of their own money, financial records or bank account
  • Is not in control of their own identification documents
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves

Other

  • Claims they are just visiting
  • Not knowledgeable of where they are staying or living
  • Shares inconsistent stories
  • Protects the person who may be hurting them

Statistics

  1. Globally, the average cost of a slave is $90.
  2. Trafficking primarily involves forcing victims into prostitution, subjecting victims to slavery or involuntary servitude and compelling victims to commit sex acts for the purpose of creating pornography.
  3. According to some estimates, approximately 80% of trafficking involves sexual exploitation, and 19% involves labor exploitation.
  4. 80% of victims are female and half are children.
  5. The average age a teen enters the sex trade in the U.S. is 12 to 14-year-old. Many victims are runaway girls who were sexually abused as children.
  6. California harbors 3 of the FBI’s 13 highest child sex trafficking areas on the nation: Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.
  7. The National Human Trafficking Hotline receives more calls from Texas than any other state in the US. 15% of those calls are from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
  8. Houston is the main port of entry and the hub of human sex trafficking in the U.S.
  9. The International Labor Organization estimates that women and girls represent the largest share of forced labor victims with 11.4 million trafficked victims (55%) compared to 9.5 million (45%) men.

The world’s response: What is being done?

Even though human trafficking is one of the largest crimes in the world, there are organizations that take a victim-centered approach to helping locate them and assist in the recovery process. During the stages of a human trafficking investigation, the overall goal is to move them from an environment of violence and exploitation.

Nationally, over the past decade, the FBI’s human trafficking investigations have been responsible for the arrest of more than 2,000 traffickers and the recovery of numerous victims.

In the Houston area, the Houston Police Department has its own Human Trafficking and Criminal Investigation Unit/ Harris County Sheriff’s Department has a Criminal Investigations Bureau which handles undercover investigations of human trafficking crimes.

If you live in Houston and would like to report a crime to Houston’s Crime Stoppers, please call 713-222-TIPS.

The City of Houston’s Anti-Human Trafficking Strategic Plan lays out the nation’s first comprehensive municipal response to human trafficking. To access the strategic plan, please click the link. https://humantraffickinghouston.org/strategic-plan/

If you or a loved one are in need of an attorney or would like to explore other resources, you can utilize if they are being abused, you can visit the Texas Crime Victim Legal Assistance Network.

Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves the millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, like those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at www.lonestarlegal.org.

Media contact: Clarissa Ayala, cayala@lonestarlegal.org.