Human trafficking is not something we tend to think about, nor can we even fathomed it and we also think – not in my backyard. However, the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault has determined that Texas, is one of the largest states in the country serving as a hub for human trafficking in the U.S.
Since 2007 there have been 13,560 calls reporting human trafficking in the state of Texas which resulted in over 3,300 cases. Texas was also found to have a high victim rate compared to other states with over 4,580 individuals impacted. According to humantraffickinghotline.org the highest form of human trafficking was sex trafficking for our home state.
Top venues for such trafficking included spa businesses, hotels/motels, residence-based commercial, and of course, online.
Human traffickers typically gear up to recruit at large events. In 2017, Houston was prepared with additional law enforcement during the Super Bowl to try and reduce sex trafficking. However, these predators are moving into small-town America and targeting rural areas. They are drawn to small towns because they feel they won’t get caught. Areas that have a lot of agricultural farming and small police forces are breeding grounds for traffickers. They are in and out very quickly and their victims are shipped off many times to foreign countries.
Children and young adults who are homeless or in the foster care system are also at a high risk of becoming involved in sex trafficking. The study from the Institute also determined that the largest number of victims of labor trafficking are found in construction, cleaning services and restaurant kitchen work. In 2015 there were approximately 30,427 kids in the foster care system in Texas and 433 of those were in the Northeast Counties of Hunt, Lamar, Delta, Hopkins and Fannin, and each county is also on the rise of foster intakes.
Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, recently declared January 2018 as Human Trafficking Awareness Month. His proclamation stated that Texas will not tolerate the inhumane practice of human trafficking.
“We provide serious penalties for human traffickers, and we continuously look for ways to better serve the victims,” said Abbott. “At this time, I encourage all Texans to learn more about the risks and indicators of human trafficking and to do their part in helping end this atrocity. The reality of this evil enterprise can become overwhelming; however, if the past year has taught us anything, it is the fact that Texans will not be overcome in the face of adversity. Together, we can protect the vulnerable, help victims find healing and bring offenders to justice.”
According to Love 146 human trafficking in less populated areas has unique characteristics. Why are rural communities so vulnerable?
FAR APART DOESN’T = SAFER.
For starters, geographical isolation can contribute to a delay in intervention and lack of opportunities to identify human trafficking. The dense population in cities allows for witnesses and anonymous onlookers to report the crime. However, rural areas allow for less intervention when the homes and those residing in the communities are spread apart due to the landscape and geographical location.
When distance gets in the way, it is hard for victims to find shelter elsewhere. If a trafficked youth decides to runaway from their trafficker or from a risky situation, it may be miles until they reach safety or the closest residency. Even with a running start, it’s likely that the trafficker will be able to locate them or have a pretty good idea of where they’re headed.
THERE ARE Fewer JOBS, WHICH MAKES PEOPLE VULNERABLE.
Due to a lack of economic opportunities, communities in rural America tend to face lower income levels than those of urban areas. In addition, with cultural beliefs that females are the caretakers of the home, women are more likely to be discouraged from entering the workforce and as a result may be economically dependent on their male partners. Lack of financial stability means that women may be more vulnerable to trafficking, especially when they do not have the means to support themselves on their own. Less economic opportunity not only makes women more vulnerable, but the entire community—children may be expected to make money to support the family, leading them to take on riskier jobs. Such vulnerability may also be used by traffickers to victimize children.
TRUCK STOPS ARE COMMON.
Rural areas are loaded with truck stops because of the long highways that stretch across these areas, which aren’t so common in cities. Truck stops, state-operated rest areas, and welcome centers are common sites where trafficking and exploitation are present. These locations are often isolated, making them convenient for transient customers to purchase sex with minimal concerns of detection. A truck stop can be an easy place for a trafficker to sell their victims night after night to a new group of customers.
No matter where traffickers set up shop, human trafficking is not going to stop. Reason being – it is big money. $600 million is made in Texas from labor trafficking and $6.6 billion for sex trafficking of minors and youths. More than $99 billion is earned globally through commercial sexual exploitation, according to data provided by ECPAT USA, an organization focused on ending child slavery within the United States. The cruel economics of human trafficking is — it is the most profitable business in the world.