Ugly Among Us

Child trafficking is a dirty business. I think we all know it happens but we don’t give it a second thought, unless it happens in your family. Texas is a hub for international human trafficking because of its many busy interstate highways, international airports, countless bus stations and shipping commerce through the Gulf of Mexico.

The shared border with Mexico is North America’s number one supply site for young children used in sex and labor trafficking.

Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States, has one of the largest international communities in this country. Interstate Highway 10 runs through Houston, which the Department of Justice has designated as the number one route for human trafficking. The borders in Texas are porous and are the biggest point of illegal entry into the US because traffickers are able to get aliens across the border without documentation.

There are many unseemly things in life, but this is ugly among us.

Trafficking in Texas flourishes because of three main factors: proximity, demographics and the large immigrant labor force. This is not just about Texas; in the last quarter of 2007, 30 percent of the calls received by the National Human Trafficking Hotline were out of the Lone Star State, and 25 percent of all international victims certified by the Department of Health and Human Services were in Texas.

Traffick911 is a team of passionate people driven to stop the sale of American children into sexual slavery. This team began its work in the inner city of Fort Worth, Texas, and is committed to helping trafficking victims reclaim their lives.

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. Sadly, there are more slaves today than at any point in history. In fact, there are twice as many slaves now than during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It is the fastestgrowing crime in the world, where perpetrators make $32 billion a year buying and selling people for profit and their pleasure. The profits are huge and the risk of being prosecuted, slim. The United Nations says that 99 percent of victims are never rescued.

Why is Texas such a hotspot? Domestic human trafficking can hide quite well in the city, especially Houston, Dallas and Austin, where there are numerous runaway and “throwaway” youth. Houston and Dallas have about 6,000 runaways annually. According to National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children, an estimated one of every three children that run away are lured into sex trafficking within 48 hours of leaving home. Sadder than this, many runaways are as young as 12 or 13 years of age.

These youngsters congregate at bus stations, which have become a major recruiting ground for prostitution. It is estimated that one in five girls and one in 10 boys in the United States are sexually exploited before they reach adulthood. Texas also has numerous sexually oriented businesses, including strip clubs, massage parlors and modeling studios. Sadly, many of them are located along inter and intra-state highways. And, because there are many professional and prominent college sports teams and events in the state, there is a great demand for the commercial sex industry, and traffickers want to meet the demand.

The stories are sad and demeaning to a young person, who is bought and sold, forced into sexual slavery. While it is true that there are children who are at higher risk for becoming a victim, such as runaways and throwaways, all American children are at risk. Gangs and the Mexican Cartels are sending recruiters into Texas schools to find unwilling victims. Children are kidnapped. People they know are selling them and threatening their families if they tell. Sometimes their own families sell them.

The story is told of one little girl, who finally told her captor just to kill her—she couldn’t do it anymore. The pimp refused, telling her that he makes too much money off her. If she wouldn’t do what he told her to, he would kidnap her 8-year-old sister and pour battery acid over her face while she watched. The little girl complied, living in a dog cage when she wasn’t being sold to man after man.

A lack of awareness in our country, coupled with the explosion of the Internet makes the job of the pimp and the recruiter easy and the job of law enforcement extremely difficult. The scope of this horrific crime seems impossible, but each person can make a difference by teaching their own children about the traps and traffickers and knowing the red flags to watch for in other children.

Very concerned about this heinous activity, the FBI conducted a raid on July 29 in which 105 children were rescued from forced prostitution. Raids were conducted in 76 American cities. More than 150 people were arrested. Forty-seven FBI divisions took part.

Most of the rescues and arrests occurred in San Francisco, where 12 juveniles were saved and 17 arrests made; Detroit, 10 youth, 17 arrests; and Milwaukee, 10 rescues.

“This operation serves as a reminder that these abhorrent crimes can happen anywhere and that the FBI remains committed to stopping this cycle of victimization,” said Ron Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigation division.

This rescue is likely only a drop in the bucket, but it certainly is an important start to rescuing children who deserve to enjoy the innocence of childhood.

This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of Security Today.

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