A new study released by the Human Trafficking Institute states Texas ranked number one for active criminal trafficking cases and convictions in 2017 at the federal level.
In Central Texas, the number of victims helped have been on the rise in the past year.
Anti-trafficking group UnBound National Director Susan Peters said this year the organization has already helped 50 victims, which is the total number helped last year.
"I think we are seeing an increase because the education within our community has increased, which we are so thankful for. I think these victims were in our community before but they were not getting identified,” Peters said.
The number of arrests of people charged with human trafficking or related this year is on track to match the number in 2017.
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said it may even surpass the 34 traffickers his agency arrested last year.
“Maybe is that we are getting better or maybe more are coming out of the woodwork. I don't have an answer for that. I know that our effort is continuing. We are not going to let up. We are going to keep the heat turned up on this people,” McNamara said.
During the 2017 operations targeting sex buyers, the agency arrested 121 people. Deputies also assisted the Bell County Sheriff’s Department in a two-day operation that led to 20 arrests.
According to the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office, since 2016 there have been 13 convictions for human trafficking in the county.
Meanwhile, UnBound continues to help victims of labor and sex trafficking in the community, which range from ages six to 50.
In 2015, the anti-trafficking group helped Rhonda Budwit find a safe house for her daughter who was trafficked in Hays county for several days.
“We have been just able to walk with the mom, walk with the daughter. Just try to encourage because the recovery is a long road,” Peters said.
Budwit said her daughter made initial contact with someone online who connected her with her trafficker.
“She was in fear of her life. She was afraid that they will kill her or that they will come and kill me,” Budwit said.
The trafficking happened while the teenager was living with her mother, which Peters said is the most common scenario in the U.S.
"While I was sleeping, she was sneaking out so that's when things really started. The day she was picked up they took her out on the daytime when I was at work,” Budwit said.
Before the mother learned her daughter was being sold for sex, she noticed changes in behavior.
"She was becoming a little bit more defiant, more moody. Her grades started slipping,” Budwit said.
The mother found out about the trafficking because of a shoplifting incident in July of 2015.
The teen’s trafficker Bernell Quillens was sentenced to 40 years in 2017 for trafficking of a child and compelling prostitution.
However, as Budwit read at court after the conviction of Quillens, she will never be the same.
"Our lives has been completely been altered. She did not go to prom. The band trip to Hawaii or graduate high school with her class,” Budwit.
The teen took online classes to earn her high school diploma. She is now considering attending college.
"My hope is that she will continue to heal and get some help. She can get an education and continue on to live a pretty normal life,” Budwit said.
To help raise funds for UnBound, you can attend theLight Up the Dark 5K race at McLane Stadium from 7 to 9 p.m. on Oct. 13.
If you would like to learn more about signs of human trafficking, contact UnBound at 254-757-2333. The group focuses on prevention and professional training.
If you believe someone is being trafficked in McLennan County, contact the Sheriff’s Office at 254-757-5095. If a victim is outside of McLennan County, contact local law enforcement agency.
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