Overview

With the widespread lack of awareness and understanding of slavery and human trafficking, more men, women and children are being exploited, bringing in an alarming revenue of billions of dollars for traffickers. There are 40.1 million victims of human trafficking globally with hundreds of thousands of victims right here in the United States. To forego keeping this a hidden crime and save the lives of innocent men, women and children, it is vital to raise awareness about human trafficking and put an end to this horrific crime.

Types of control on victims

Traffickers might use violence, manipulation, false promises to a well-paying job, romantic relationships or by using threats of deportation or harm to lure victims into trafficking situations. Traffickers use force, fraud and coercion to lure women, men and children into forced labor or sexual exploitation. Many people who fall victim of trafficking want to escape poverty, improve their lives and support their families. Once they arrive to their destination, their documents are stolen and they are controlled by traffickers and are forced to work until their debt is paid off.

Common myths

  • Human trafficking does not occur in the United States. It only happens in other countries;
  • Human trafficking victims are only foreign born individuals and those who are poor;
  • Human trafficking is only sex trafficking;
  • Individuals must be forced or coerced into commercial sex acts to be victims of human trafficking;
  • Human trafficking and human smuggling are the same;
  • Human trafficking victims will attempt to seek help when in public;
  • Only women and children experience trafficking;
  • Human trafficking is always or usually a violent crime; and
  • Human trafficking only happens in illegal or underground industries.

Red flags

Since human trafficking is a crime hidden in plain sight, it can be difficult identifying a victim. Some victims are kept behind closed doors, but some of often right in front of us at restaurants, elder care centers, nail salons, and hotels. Knowing the indicators of human trafficking can help you save a life. Below are the red flags and questions you can ask that might help you identify a victim.

Physical appearance

  • Has injuries or signs of abuse and does not want to explain them;
  • Looks thin and in need of food;
  • Marked with a tattoo, such as a man’s name, symbol of money or a barcode; or
  • Dressed in a suggestive way not normal for their age group.

Possessions

  • Doesn’t carry identification;
  • Has a sudden increase in money, clothing or jewelry;
  • Has a number of hotel keys or cards; or
  • Has a prepaid cellphone.

Lack of control

  • With someone who controls their every move;
  • Seems to follow a script in the way they speak;
  • Doesn’t have control of their own money; or
  • Can’t go from place to place on their own.

Behavior

  • Fears authority;
  • Claims to be an adult;
  • Moves often from place to place;
  • Story doesn’t add up;
  • Not enrolled in school or absent; or
  • Seems to be depressed.

Questions to ask

  • Can you leave your job if you want to?
  • Can you come and go as you please?
  • Has your family been threatened?
  • Do you live with your employer?
  • Where do you sleep and eat?

Where do the victims come from?

While human trafficking spans all demographics, there are some vulnerabilities that lead to a higher inevitability to victimization. Traffickers look for people how are susceptible for a variety of reasons, including psychological or emotional vulnerability, economic hardship, lack of a social safety net, or natural disasters.

Runaway and homeless youths are examples of vulnerable victims. Foreign nationals who are trafficked within the United States face unique challenges that may leave them more susceptible to trafficking and exploitation. Also, male and female victims of domestic violence and sexual assault are more likely to fall into the hands of traffickers.

Victims by state

Human trafficking victims have been identified in cities, suburbs and rural areas in all 50 states and Washington D.C. Some victims are locked away, hidden from the outside world while some are working in plain sight and even interact with community members.

Even though trafficking is a global epidemic, it doesn’t only take place in foreign countries. The United States has been reported as a top destination for men, women and children subjected to forced labor, involuntary servitude and sex trafficking.

In Texas, Houston is home to over six thousand runaway minors and one in three runaways are lured into sex trafficking within 48 hours of running away. The largest population of youths sex trafficked are in Houston, Texas.

What can you do to stay safe?

  • Call 911: If you believe someone or yourself is in immediate danger, call 911 and alert the authorities.
  • Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline: After contacting law enforcement, call the hotline at 1-888-3737. You can also text Help or Info to 233733. Or you can reach the hotline by email: Reprt@PolarisProject.org
  • Pay attention: Pay close attention to the people in your neighborhood and community. Report behaviors that might be evidence of human trafficking.
  • Don’t approach traffickers: Human traffickers are some of the most violent offenders in Texas. Don’t approach them yourself. Instead, contact law enforcement and allow them to respond.

If you or a loved one are a victim of stalking and need assistance, 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.