Mia Garza McCord, President. 2/12/2020
What is “human trafficking?” According to the Texas Attorney General’s official human trafficking initiative website, “human trafficking is modern-day slavery. It is the exploitation of men, women, and children for forced labor or sex by a third-party for profit or gain.”
Most of us are so far removed from such activity that the words alone trigger a reaction of “not me,” “It could never happen to me or near me,” or “I have never witnessed human trafficking.” But 234,000 people in Texas are victims of labor trafficking, and 79,000 youth and minors in Texas are sex trafficked at any given moment. With those numbers, are you sure it could never happen to you? Are you certain you have never witnessed the trafficking, either for labor or sex, of another human being? Growing up an hour from the border, I remember the vivid sounds of border patrol helicopters flying low over our neighborhood and my parents telling us to lock the door during a smuggling bust or when a group of illegal immigrants were on the run. And, while human smuggling is not the same as human trafficking, it is not uncommon for an individual to be smuggled into the country for the purposes of labor or sex trafficking.
The promises of work and money lure immigrants to our country, but the hope of a better life can turn into indentured servitude, or slavery. This is known as labor trafficking. Often a man, woman, or child is made to perform some form of labor--domestic servitude (cooking, cleaning, childcare), agricultural, food service, manufacturing, or hospitality services--and never paid the money promised, if any at all. These individuals usually live where they work, in poor conditions, have a fear of law enforcement, and are manipulated into staying with threats or physical and/or psychological abuse. Signs of labor trafficking can include: control of an individual’s schedule by someone else; evidence of abuse or violence; long or odd work hours; living where they work; being transported to and from work by their employer; having all of their basic living needs are supplied by their employer; and not being paid on a regular pay schedule. These individuals are often times recruited based on false promises of citizenship or working conditions.
Trafficking is a very real problem in Texas, which is why the state has been a leader in combating it. This issue transcends gender and politics. Indeed, our legislators and statewide leaders have committed to ending this hideous form of modern-day slavery. In 2016, Attorney General Ken Paxton created the Human Trafficking and Transnational/Organized Crime Section within his office. He more recently launched the “Be The One” initiative to tell the story of three trafficked individuals and raise awareness of the issue across the state. You can find the video and resources here.
In another important initiative, the Governor’s Commission for Women and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) have joined forces to raise awareness across the state through the “On the Road to End Human Trafficking” program. On January 29th, in coordination with the First Lady of Texas and the Attorney General’s office, the Commission for Women and TxDOT trained TxDOT employees on identifying the signs of human trafficking and how to help if they encounter trafficking situations. TxDOT employees’ daily work on our state roads make them ideal partners in this fight.
There are many projects across the state, all with the same goal: finally putting an end to human trafficking. You can help too, If you believe someone in the community needs help, please call local authorities, especially if the situation is an emergency. You can also call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888 or text “Help” or “Info” to 233733.
Human labor and sex trafficking have no place in our communities or in this state. You could “Be The One” to help someone in need.