Modern day slavery is happening all over the globe in the form of human trafficking. In fact, there are more slaves today than ever before in history. And it’s not merely a third world problem that exists in the slums of India or red light districts of Europe.
There are thousands of people in the United States every year that are forced into labor and sexual slavery, and Texas is a hot spot for trafficking.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says that human trafficking is the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them.
This can take on many forms, from individuals who are forced to work in inhumane conditions in homes or factories to women and children that are sexually exploited in truck stops, brothels and hotels.
And it’s taking place right here.
“If you think it doesn’t happen in the U.S., think again,” said Marketing Director of Traffick911 Lindsey Speed. “Truth is, there are hundreds of thousands of U.S. children bought and sold in the U.S. each year. It’s the second largest and fastest growing criminal activity in the world.”
Hitting even closer to home, the problem in Texas is greater than almost anywhere else in the country. It contains multiple hot spot cities, including Dallas, Ft. Worth and Houston.
“The National Human Trafficking Hotline receives more calls from Texas than any other state except California,” Speed said. “The Department of Justice designated the I-10 corridor as the number one route for human trafficking in the U.S., and Texas is the center point for that route.”
Director of Traffick Stop Tomi Grover, PhD said that several things make Texas such a trap for trafficking. Along with I-10, which runs east to west, the state also has I-35 running north to south, making where the two meet a hub for activity. A lack of adequate security along the Mexican border, as well as large port cities like Houston also contribute.
“It’s been reported that one out of every four victims of trafficking has at some point been through Texas,” Grover said.
While a web of infrastructure provides the avenue for trafficking, there is much more beneath the surface that allows the industry to continue growing and spreading.
Like any other business, supply and demand is at the core.
“The global consumerism we have is what drives demand, whether it’s for labor, goods and services or whether it’s for sex trafficking. We would not have this problem if we did not have a demand,” Grover said.
The continued desire for cheaper goods is feeding the slave labor industry, and it’s something that just about everyone is a part of in some way through what they are purchasing.
Without realizing it, most people are buying things at a lower cost because the labor used to produce the goods is often slave labor.
“Very few of us live in such a way that we’re not contributing to it,” Grover said.
When it comes to sex trafficking, a major contributing factor, especially in the U.S., is pornography.
Speed said there are more than 100,000 pornographic websites and more than half come from the U.S., with more than 32 million people viewing them every month.
Resident Director of Beall Hall Christan Hammonds has been involved with the issue of human trafficking for the past couple of years, and helped orchestrate last year’s Cru for a Cause, which raised funds to help stop the growing problem.
She is especially passionate when it comes to speaking up about the part pornography plays in it.
“I firmly believe if just Christian men…would turn off their computers and throw away the magazines, that alone would put such a dent in the pornography supply.”
Unhealthy portrayals of sex in the media have also generated demand for the sex slave industry.
“We see it in advertising, music, movies, TV, fashion,” Speed said. “Pimping has become glamorized. It’s become a sexy verb.”
So, what makes some more at risk to fall into the traps that these factors present?
Grover said poverty is a huge reason.
“Not having options is the biggest threat to their freedom because if they’re in a highly impoverished community and the only work they can get is working as a sex worker, then that’s what they’ll do in order to feed their family,” she said”
According to Speed, one out of three homeless youth in the U.S. run a high risk of being sold into sex slavery within 48 hours of being on the streets.
While the problem may seem overwhelming, the first step to solving it is to learn about it.Grover said that we all need to start by owning our part in it.
“We know the information about it, and it’s ok as long as it’s somebody else’s issue somewhere across the water. But once we start looking at how we personally contribute to it, that’s when it becomes real to us,” she said.
Hammonds hopes to play a role in the education process.
“I think not only do we need to educate people on what they look like…but there are also signs to look for for those who are high risk,” she said.
She also believes it is important to educate those who are purchasing women and children in the sex industry in order to help them understand what is really happening to the victims.
While they may think they are merely buying someone for a night of pleasure, this is not the reality.
“It’s not a fantasy to her. It’s her living hell and she’ll leave, continuing to be starved and beaten, and he’s not aware of that,” Hammonds said.
Speed said some signs to look for in those who are either being trafficked, or are at risk, are scripted answers, branding or tattoos, varied stages of bruising, nervousness, inability to make eye contact, chronic runaways, dating much older, abusive men, or being obviously controlled by a male, as well as unstable homes, parent-child conflict, addiction to substances, depression, low self-esteem or self-worth and desire for protection and love.
Several websites, including traffickstop.org, traffick911.com, thepolarisproject.org and numerous others offer information about human trafficking.
Groves said, “There’s a whole host of questions and learning pieces to begin understanding what these people face and how to recognize them.”