How big of an issue is Human Trafficking in Houston? Take a look at these statistics and see for yourself. Every day, all around us as we live our lives, there is a very real injustice and cruelty being dealt to people who have had their freedom, safety, and self-worth stripped from them.
Texas as a Human Trafficking Hub
According to a 2017 study by researchers at the University of Texas, it is estimated that "313,000 people in the state are victims of human trafficking, with 79,000 minors and youth as sex workers." Further, according to a study by Cheryl Butler in the Akron Law Review, about 25 percent of trafficked people in the United states are in Texas. Nationwide, about 22 percent of trafficking victims travel through Texas.
Finally, according to the same study, of the calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline nearly a third come from Texas.
Pimps will often lure women from Mexico across the border to the US by promising them better lives, perhaps a better job, Alvarez said. These pimps may get help from people the women already know and trust, like a neighbor.
Once they're kidnapped, these women are no longer viewed as people in the eyes of their handlers. They've been reduced to a commodity that can be bought and sold repeatedly in an open market. In the United States, Houston has become one of those markets.
"People see Houston as a hub for human trafficking because of its proximity to the border," said FBI special agent Suzanne Bradley. "It also has access to the I-10 highway corridor, which goes across the country, so if they're smuggling people in and trying to get them into human trafficking in other areas of the country, it's very easy to get them on that I-10 route and disperse them throughout the country."
Being an American
It is often hard to critique our own community, our own town, even ourselves for turning a blind eye to something so terrible. It is easier instead to say "I didn't know" or "I can't do anything", but it is impossible declare ourselves a progressive society and still allow slavery to reign. The two are not compatible. We cannot champion freedom, equality, and justice, nor can we march for our rights, while still blissfully trudging over the outstretched arms of those who need our voices the most. Freedom is not and has never been a single victory fight. We fight for freedom every day, in every space of the world. Our own American history gives an exemplary look at how freedom is hard won. A nation conceptualized on the basis of liberty and justice for all yet built on the backs of slaves. A culture of people classified as hippies mark the 1960's as a place of love and peace while disregarding the immense power of the civil rights movement to define a generation. I am asking you to look up from your world of political, racial, and religious divide; forget for a moment what a republican or a democrat is, forget the color of one's skin or the name of one's God, look up and meet the eyes of the men, women, and children who have fallen through the cracks of a society more interested in their own diatribe and divisive labels than they are in actually upholding the fundamental values they preach.
How you can make a change
There are ways beyond monetary donation that we can contribute to ending human trafficking, just by being conscious of our labor demand.
Know Your Sources. When possible, understand the sources of the products and services you enjoy. Products of Slavery features an interactive map that helps you understand which goods are most likely sourced by slaves, so you can find ways to avoid them. Examples include rice purchased from India, blueberries and strawberries from Argentina, and even fireworks from the Philippines.
Reduce Risk. When you don’t know your sources, you can at least reduce your risk. Avoid the industries associated with human trafficking, such as sexually-oriented businesses, internationally-sourced garments, and internationally-sourced precious metals. Most human trafficking victims are held for sexual exploitation, so industries that support the trafficking of victims for sexual purposes bear special attention. Consumers cannot always know if they’re watching porn featuring minors, if they’re watching strippers who were trafficked into the business, or if they’re purchasing a sex act from a woman with a pimp who threatens her life. If you cannot know the source of your sexual gratification, then you can at least reduce your risk by not participating. Remember that the demand for purchased sexuality is what drives sex trafficking in the first place.
Understand Your Slavery Footprint. If you live in the United States and consume goods and services, there’s a strong likelihood that a modern-day slave has worked to produce the goods and services you enjoy. Slave labor is often in the supply chain for popular goods, such as internationally-sourced seafood, makeup, diamond jewelry, and fashionable garments. Go to Slavery Footprint to determine which of your habits and purchases are most likely tied to human trafficking. This knowledge, in turn, can influence your choices as you move forward.
Boycott Goods Produced by Slaves. Although you likely can’t know everything about your supply chain, take action on the items you can. Boycott those goods that you know are likely touched by slavery, and replace them with products that are certified Fair Trade. Not every industry uses the Fair Trade certification, but you can start with small purchases, such as coffee, body care, cocoa, and garments.
Find Out More, and Act. There’s a wealth of information about human trafficking, and many public and private agencies are taking strong action against this gross violation of human rights. Check out the Polaris Project for more information about human trafficking and how you can help prevent and rehabilitate victims in the United States. You can also look for local agencies that are doing the hard work of addressing the needs of victims as they exit the industry.