People caught up in human trafficking are used for some type of forced labor, from the sex trade to domestic servitude to farm labor. Human Trafficking Outreach Specialist Katie O'Rear helps educate people about what to look for to identify victims. She says human trafficking is overlooked in society.
"It's something seen as part of the criminal world, as part of the immigrant world, it's seen as something that people look at as being part of a different culture or part of a different economic group, it's just completely overlooked as being the giant problem that it is."
The U.S. Justice Department estimates that between 14,000 and 17,000 persons are trafficked to the United States every year. Children At Risk staff attorney Lisa Sandoze-Robinson says the state legislature addressed the issue during the most recent session. She says new laws clarified the definition of trafficking and expanded the definition for forced labor.
"Under the law that was passed in 2003 it was required that the element of transport be present in any case involving trafficking. But in fact, trafficking in most cases is organized crime with many players so if you are only able to prosecute the people actually involved in the movement of the victim then you're leaving out a lot of people who are perpetrators of the crime."
Several activities are planned this week to raise awareness about human trafficking. Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition Co-Director Stephanie Weber says past human trafficking busts have discovered that victims have received medical attention without being identified as a human trafficking victim.
"It's absolutely important for us to help medical professionals learn how it is that they can identify human trafficking victims who may be coming through the emergency clinics or may be coming through the emergency room."
The Coalition is also looking to train lawyers who work with victims of human trafficking. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.