Houston's Human Trafficking Problem
By TRP Staff
"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." That is the exact wording of the 13th Amendment, banning slavery in the United States. Sadly, the specter of forced labor has raised its head in the Bayou City. Houston is recognized as one of the largest hubs of human trafficking in the United States. A combination of its central location, proximity to the border and extremely diverse population makes Houston a mecca for those that would enslave others.
There are two kinds of modern slavery, forced labor and commercial sex industries. Forced labor is the tradition form of slavery, it hasn't changed since the days of Imperial Rome and Ancient Egypt. The more common form today however is women forced into the sex trade. Contrary to popular perception, most women in the sex trade are not foreigners, but Americans. A runaway teenage girl statistically will be approached by a pimp within 48 hours. One that is brought into the trade is often sent to a new city so she will be in unfamiliar territory without anyone she knows to contact.
Houston has one of the largest populations of sex trade workers, though we are not the #1 city for it. We have so many different routes of access to the city it was almost assured Houston would become a hub for trafficking. Slaves are brought in via ships through the port of Houston, both I-10 and Highway 59 allow access to the rest of the country, and having two international airports allow for women to be smuggled in from abroad.
Houston however is not letting this crime against humanity go unchecked. The Harris County District Attorney's Office under Ann Johnson has set up a special task force devoted to stopping human trafficking where ever it is found. Because the prostitutes are victims of a crime three new courts called SAFE (Safe Acquiring Freedom & Empowerment) have been set up specifically to help prostitutes under the age of 25 escape their past. Additionally special court called GIRLS (Growing Independence Restoring Life) helps vulnerable youth avoid the hazards of prostitution.
Misa Nguyen, of United Against Human Trafficking, went into detail about the problems facing organizations dedicated to fighting human trafficking. One of the biggest problems is because Houston is so diverse it's hard to notice something amiss when there are several ethnic businesses in the same location and people aren't familiar with the cultures. The pimps and traffickers keep their victims isolated so they don't know who to turn to for help.
The first step she said is to recognize the victims. Look for businesses employing more employees than they would realistically need, especially young girls. Not just in a business setting, but also in residential areas, especially with rentals, that have a lot of people constantly visiting. Get to know your neighbors, and report things that seem out of place. Report young women out by themselves after dark loitering with no means of transportation.
The women in this are the victims, the real criminals are the pimps and johns. The system is set up to help the prostitutes and punish the victimizers. In the case of foreign born sex workers they are offered repatriation to their nation, or refugee status if they can help prosecute the traffickers. For women native to the US the agencies involved have programs to get them off the street and return them to their family and friends.
Educating yourself is another way to combat this scourge. United Against Human Trafficking provides educational seminars to churches, social workers and police. Task forces at all levels of government provide educational materials and presentations for groups on how pervasive the crime is and how to stop it. The first thing all of them recommend however, if you see someone at risk, call the authorities. The woman you see is a victim, not a criminal.
If you need to report human trafficking please call 1-888-3737-888. This is a 24 hour hotline where you will get a live person that will get in contact with the local authorities.