A new campaign to combat modern-day slavery in Houston is combining the resources of law enforcement and non-government organizations across the city to catch the crooks and help the victims. Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the United States.
Human traffickers most often target women and children from other countries by promising a new life in America, a dream that’s often shattered with the victims forced into prostitution or other forced labor when they get here. The new awareness campaign by the US Department of Health and Human Services utilizes the resources of both government and non-government organizations that come in contact with victims of human trafficking on a regular basis. Steve Wagner runs the HHS’s Trafficking Program. “We want to make sure that people who are likely to encounter victims of human trafficking are aware that this is going on, they know how to recognize a victim and they know what to do when they find one,” he says.
It’s estimated up to 17,500 men, women and children are trafficked to the US every year. Within the past two weeks, 14 people have been busted here in Houston for alleged human trafficking that involved forced prostitution. “We have no idea what the population of trafficked persons is at this point in time. We can’t tell you how many victims there are in Houston, but because of the busts that we saw over the weekend, because of other cases of trafficking that have come to light, it’s very clear that human trafficking is a substantial problem in Houston,” says Wagner.
The awareness campaign combines training and television and print ads that tell victims where to go for help. Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District Don DeGabrielle says law enforcement and non-government organizations have traditionally worked separately on the problem. “We are working together now. We are working to prevent, not just to prosecute. We are lending our resources to the non-governmental organizations who have gotten together and said we need to work together, that’s the only way that we’re going to solve this particular problem,” he says.