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Reported cases of human trafficking on the rise during a pandemic

Posted at 1:54 PM, Dec 15, 2020

Human trafficking affects both adults and children, men and women, and people from all parts of Texas, the United States, and around the world.

Although there is no defining characteristic that all human trafficking victims share, traffickers around the world frequently prey on individuals who are poor, vulnerable, living in an unsafe or unstable situation, or are in search of a better life, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

It's easy to believe these issues don't affect your hometown, but trafficking is occurring in cities and towns all across Texas.

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons or modern-day slavery, is a crime that involves compelling or coercing a person to provide labor or services, or to engage in commercial sex acts.

The coercion can be subtle or overt, physical or psychological. The exploitation of a minor for commercial sex is human trafficking, regardless of whether any form of force, fraud, or coercion was used.

Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age (22 USC § 7102).

Labor trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery, (22 USC § 7102).

Sex trafficking has been found in a wide variety of venues within the sex industry, including residential brothels, escort services, fake massage businesses, strip clubs, and street prostitution.

Labor trafficking has been found in diverse labor settings including, domestic work, small businesses, large farms and factories.

The National Trafficking Hotline provides the largest known data set on sex and labor trafficking in the United States. Their data from 2019 shows contact from victims and survivors has grown steadily over time.

What are the numbers?

In Texas alone, there are approximately 313,000 victims of human trafficking at any given moment, according to a study conducted by the University of Texas School of Social Work.

There are nearly 234,000 adult victims of labor trafficking in Texas at any given time.

The study also showed approximately 79,000 minor and youth victims of sex trafficking in Texas at any given time.

The U.S. Department of State estimates that 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year. However, these numbers do not include the many individuals trafficked within U.S. borders.

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline's data, Texas had the second-highest number of human trafficking cases in America in 2019 with 1080 reported cases.

The most human trafficking cases have been reported in California, Texas, and Florida, according to the hotline. These states have the highest populations in the U.S., which can explain why their numbers of cases are significantly higher than other states, as well as very high immigrant populations.

Nevada has the highest rates of human trafficking, according to the data.

Their data is based on the contacts -- phone calls, texts, online chats, emails, and webforms -- received by the NHTH that reference Texas.

Within those 1,080 cases, 261 were minors. The data showed that 805 of the reported total cases involved sex trafficking and 111 involved labor trafficking.

Trafficking situations learned about through the Trafficking Hotline likely represent only a small subset of actual trafficking occurring in the United States.

During the 2006 Department of Justice National Conference, Texas interstate 1-10 was identified as one of the main routes for human traffickers, with El Paso and Houston identified as major human trafficking centers.

Central Texas' location on the I-35 corridor also gives perpetrators easy access to both Dallas and Houston, which are rated two of the top estimated trafficking cities.

The Brazos Valley, including the Bryan / College Station community, is at a special risk because of their location in what’s called the “Texas Triangle.” Major interstates cross through Texas, connecting DFW, Houston, and San Antonio to the rest of the country.

"Because of this, the Texas Triangle is considered one of the most heavily trafficked regions in the United States. And Bryan / College Station is right in the middle," Unbound College Station said.

How has the pandemic affected human trafficking?

Earlier this year, Polaris released a report after carefully tracking the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on victims and survivors of sex and labor trafficking.

An analysis by Polaris comparing the hotline activity in three periods in 2019 and 2020 indicates the number of crisis trafficking situations has worsened by about 40 percent.

The analysis compared a post-shelter-in-place period to two deliberately chosen pre-shelter-in-place periods.

Crisis situations are those in which some assistance - such as shelter, transportation, or law enforcement involvement - is needed within 24 hours.

The pandemic has impacted the victims’ vulnerabilities, as well as the manner of sex trafficking operations nationwide, according to the report.

What to do if you are or suspect someone is a victim of trafficking?

To get help or report trafficking, please contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline:

Unbound Bryan College Station supports survivors and resources their community to fight human trafficking in the Brazos Valley. They can be reached here or call 979-985-2430 for their 24/7 Survivor Advocacy Referrals (crisis & non-crisis).