Human trafficking remains a hidden crime

Published 6:02 am Saturday, August 28, 2021

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Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide – including right here in the United States. It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality. Traffickers might use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations.

Language barriers, fear of their traffickers, and/or fear of law enforcement frequently keep victims from seeking help, making human trafficking a hidden crime.

In Texas, 20 new criminal human trafficking cases were filed in federal courts in 2020. 18 defendants were convicted. 94 percent of active defendants were charged with sex trafficking, and six percent were charged with forced labor. Federal courts ordered five out of 18 convicted defendants to pay restitution to their victims, following a trend of decline of restitution ordered in the state in recent years.

While main believe human trafficking is sex trafficking, that is a misconception as that is not the only form of human trafficking.

Forced labor is another type of human trafficking; both involve exploitation of people. Victims are found in legitimate and illegitimate labor industries, including sweatshops, massage parlors, agriculture, restaurants, hotels, and domestic service, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Human trafficking is not the same as smuggling. “Trafficking” is based on exploitation and does not require movement across borders. “Smuggling” is based on movement and involves moving a person across a country’s border with that person’s consent in violation of immigration laws. Although human smuggling is very different from human trafficking, human smuggling can turn into trafficking if the smuggler uses force, fraud, or coercion to hold people against their will for the purposes of labor or sexual exploitation. Under federal law, every minor induced to engage in commercial sex is a victim of human trafficking.

Victims may be afraid to come forward and get help; they may be forced or coerced through threats or violence; they may fear retribution from traffickers, including danger to their families; and they may not be in possession of or have control of their identification documents making it difficult to reach out for help.

In 2020, 94 precent of the defendants tried for human trafficking in Texas were sentenced to prison. That is 17 of the 18 cases. The average prison sentence was 186 months, or 15 years and five months.

For the number of 125 active defendants, 6-percent were forced labor and 94-percent were for sex trafficking.

According to the Human Trafficking Institute’s 2020 State Reports released this week, 18 of 21 defendants were convicted in Texas. Federal judges in Texas ordered five of the 18 convicted to pay restitution.

The report also showed an increase in new criminal human trafficking cases in 2020 from the previous two years as well as an increase in forced labor cases.

Signs of Human Trafficking are:

  • Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
  • Has a child stopped attending school?
  • Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
  • Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
  • Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
  • Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
  • Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?
  • Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
  • Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to?
  • Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
  • Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?
  • Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?
  • Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?

Not all indicators listed above are present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of human trafficking.

To get help, call 1-888-373-7888 ( TTY: 711) or *Text 233733