How can a young girl with a blonde ponytail working at Outback Steakhouse in Katy become a madam of a brothel in just ten years? Unfortunately, this is everyday reality in Texas, a domestic and international hub for human trafficking. Just last month, Houston law enforcement personnel broke up a sex trafficking ring, halting its exploitation of children as young as 16 and 17. This is not an isolated occurrence. Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, and as this recent bust makes clear, this dreadful crime is happening in our own backyard. Moreover, it does not only affect foreign-born victims, but American teenagers who are lured into a world they cannot escape.
How are children and women lured into this lifestyle?
Often these victims are considered throwaways, they have run away from a broken home where they were abused and neglected. A vulnerable child is then promised a better life, romanticized into a relationship, and believes they have met a friend and protector.
The reality is they have met a pimp who will use them for financial gain and ultimately enslave them. The victim, or “prostitute,” is told where to go, when to eat, when to talk, and receives no monetary compensation.
Human trafficking is a serious danger to American children. According to National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children, an estimated one out of every three children that run away is lured into sex trafficking within 48 hours of leaving home. No demographic is exempt. Victims of human trafficking are young children, teenagers, women and men. This is what we’ve seen in this most recent case — suburban children turned victims and then leaders in a highly organized crime.
Texas is a major hub for human trafficking, second only to California. Since 2001, more than 20 percent of the total number of identified trafficking victims nationwide has been located in Texas. This most recent bust reinforces these figures, because the victims came from areas all across the U.S. The Houston Chronicle article discussing the indictments of five of the individuals involved states that, “the minors [involved] were brought from Nevada, Arizona, Kansas and Florida to Houston.” Houston, in fact, is considered to be one of the main hub cities, and is a major destination for traffickers. Further, the second-largest trafficking bust in U.S. history occurred in Houston, in 2005.
The Texas Legislature took significant steps in the last session to address the scourge of human trafficking. Gov. Rick Perry recently signed bipartisan legislation that targets both customers and purveyors of human trafficking and guarantees that victims will receive the services they need to escape prostitution.
All Texans have a moral responsibility to join in this fight to stop human trafficking. Because of Texas’ location on the border and the interstate highways crossing our state, we must address the fact that we are a hub of the global sex trade. Human slavery exists. We have taken the first steps, however more action is needed to put a stop to this heinous crime. There clearly remain significant challenges ahead of us to end the demand and protect vulnerable American children.
Sanborn is president & CEO of Children at Risk, a policy and law center speaking out for Houston’s youth. Some of the areas of its concern are education, health, juvenile justice and human trafficking of children.