A woman in Waco can disappear in moments and become a victim of sex trafficking, an umbrella term that covers the recruitment or transportation of people for the purpose of subjecting them to involuntary service in the sex industry. It can take place in any state or city — including Texas. In 2011, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline received 19,427 phone calls – almost double the calls from 2010. Next to California, Texas was the second state with the most incoming calls.
Child trafficking is one of several concerns of Children at Risk, a nonprofit organization created to help children through research and education. Its research article “The State of Human Trafficking in Texas” reveals that Texas is a big hub for international human trafficking because of its busy interstate highways, international airports, bus stations, shipping commerce through the Gulf of Mexico and its shared border with Mexico. The Texas-Mexico border is North America’s number one supply site for young children subjected to sex trafficking.
Unbound, Antioch Community Church’s nationally-growing, anti-human trafficking organization that began in March in Waco, works to end sex trafficking through education, rescue and aftercare, public policy and prayer. Currently, there are eight Unbound chapters in the United States: Waco, Bell County, College Station, Dallas, Seattle and three in Boston. Susan Peters, the national director for Unbound and a Waco resident, said one of the most important ways to bring an end to trafficking is through education. This includes specific trainings for police departments, social workers and other areas in the Waco community who are working directly with victims. Unbound is in the process of developing curriculum for girls in juvenile centers and schools to educate them so they will be equipped to resist coercion or be able to get out of an abusive relationship if one has formed. In addition, the organization is collaborating with members to create small support groups within poor areas where traffickers may look.
Liz Griffin, Unbound’s director for strategic growth, said on an average night, Waco has 20 to 40 minors trafficked through online sources. Unbound’s research teams gather weekly to scan through Internet ads to identify girls who have been made to look much older than 15 years old. They are working to develop software to gather more data and cover more cities in order to take a large chunk out of Internet trafficking.
Griffin said lowering the amount of sex trafficking victims could be done through education and awareness in the United States. “We think it’s a child chained to a bed in a brothel. Many times you pass a victim of trafficking at a mall,” Griffin said. “There are also students who attend school who are being trafficked. It’s hidden in plain sight. The lack of understanding of what it looks like in a western culture is huge.”
Learn more at Holly Renner’s Baylor Lariat article: Unsung heroes fight sex trafficking in Waco.