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Riley Heruska
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Although most of us like to think of the Lone Star State as a place of Southern hospitality and general safety, Texas is not immune to the horrors of the modern-day slave trade that takes place within America. Hundreds of human trafficking cases are reported in Texas every year, both by victims/survivors of the trade and those who observe the crime being committed.

Within the first half of 2017, 433 cases of human trafficking had been reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, and most of those cases involved women trapped in the world of sex trafficking. Many of these reports came from the DFW and Houston areas. Studies also estimate that there are roughly 79,000 child victims of sex trafficking in Texas, according to a 2017 report by the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault. That same study indicates that there might be more than 300,000 victims of human trafficking in Texas. 

Many have critiqued the Texas government for not doing more to end the slave trade in our state, but Texas has made a few steps towards battling human trafficking. Last year, the state hired its first Director of Human Trafficking Prevention, and the government is striving to implement more coordinated efforts to target the illegal activity. Still, as a state, it's clear that we could do more to put a stop to human and sex trafficking. 

January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, so let's talk about what we can do to lower the reports of slavery in Texas and throughout the United States.  

First, we must understand what human trafficking is. It occurs when one person is manipulated through violence, unfair coercion, or lies to enter a field of commercial sex, servitude, or any kind of forced labor. Human trafficking tends to arise in places with large urban centers, which makes Texas a prime candidate. Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio are all hubs for this terrible crime. It's a lucrative business, bringing in as much as $600 million for traffickers across the country who exploit sex, construction, farm, and restaurant workers. 

To help, we must learn to identify victims of human trafficking. Victims are typically living in poor conditions, hindered in their ability to speak to others, showing signs of abuse, lacking proper identification documents, and potentially residing with an employer. They are often kept locked up and hidden from view in restaurants, nail salons, and hotels.

If you believe someone might be living in a human trafficking situation, try to subtly ask about their situation. Inquire if they have been threatened, if they can leave the area, if they have access to their forms of identification, and if they are residing in proper living conditions. In many cases, the victim's family or personal well-being may have been threatened, so make sure to ask them about their situation in private to avoid risking their safety. 

Additionally, keep in mind that not every victim of human trafficking is kept in a seedy motel or some sort of villainous secret lair. Some victims continue to lead fairly normal lives by attending school. The Texas School Safety Center encourages teachers, parents, and school officials to keep their eyes peeled for middle schoolers and teens who might be involved in slavery. To learn more about how to identify a victim, visit this website

If you believe you've found a victim of human trafficking, reach out for help immediately. Alert your local law enforcement or call the 24-Hour National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

Another way you can contribute to the battle against human trafficking is by simply raising awareness. Many Americans believe slavery is a thing of the past, but in reality, slavery is far from dead. More than 40 million people around the world were estimated to be victims of modern slavery in 2016, with one in four of those victims being children. Educate your friends and family so that they can be on the lookout for traffickers and victims in their cities. Take to social media to share helpful articles and information. 

You can also donate to anti-trafficking organizations that ceaselessly toil to find and eliminate incidents of modern slavery in America. Check out this website to find one you might be interested in financially supporting. 

To learn more about the statistics of human trafficking in Texas, visit https://humantraffickinghotline.org/state/texas.

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