CROCKETT – Working to end human trafficking is a year-round effort, but January is a unique opportunity to raise awareness and take action. Every year, the president proclaims January as National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, a time dedicated to shedding light on this devastating crime.
The Family Crisis Center of East Texas is educating the Houston County community by hosting an awareness event Thursday, Jan. 20 at 10 a.m. at the Pioneer Bank Community Room, located at 415 Goliad Ave., in Crockett. Mayor Ianthia Fisher will read a proclamation letter. Representatives from the Houston County Sheriff’s Department also are on the agenda to speak. The event is free and open to the public, and lunch will be provided.
“Human Trafficking Awareness Month calls attention to the fact that human trafficking is an epidemic hidden in plain sight in this community and all communities across the country,” said Maria Villarreal, Sexual Assault/Human Trafficking Specialist at the Family Crisis Center of East Texas. “After drug dealing, trafficking of humans is tied with arms dealing as the second largest criminal industry in the world, and is the fastest growing. Raising public awareness is an important element in the fight against human trafficking.”
The theme, “End Human Trafficking,” focuses on the recognition and prevention of human trafficking, which is often described as a hidden crime. The goals of the awareness campaign are to raise public awareness about the nature of human trafficking, how and where it occurs locally, and how to prevent and stop it; help identify victims and survivors and promote access to services, and decrease demand through awareness.
Human trafficking is defined as a crime that involves exploiting a person for labor, services or commercial sex, according to The United States Department of Justice. Victims are exploited through a third party for money or gain by force, fraud or coercion.
Labor trafficking is defined by Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. One of the most common areas of labor trafficking is in agriculture, and it encompasses both legal and undocumented workers.
Sex trafficking is the most widely publicized form of human trafficking. The TVPA defines sex trafficking for adults as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud, or coercion. Any person under 18 years of age induced to perform sex acts is a victim of sex trafficking. Hotels/motels, truck stops, massage parlors and online sites are common places for sex trafficking.
“Traffickers lure and ensnare people into forced labor and sex by manipulating and exploiting their vulnerabilities. They prey on people who are hoping for a better life, lack employment opportunities, have an unstable home life, or have a history of sexual or physical abuse,” said Villareal. “They often seek out children online who appear vulnerable, depressed, seem emotionally isolated from family and friends, have low-esteem or appear to have a lot of unsupervised time.”
Victims of human trafficking leave many clues or signs of distress. “Changed behavior, reduced or eliminated communication, secretive of whereabouts, sudden change of intimate relationship, isolation from family, unexplained amounts of money, sober then suddenly becomes addicted to drugs, constantly moving living spaces or towns, bruises or burns, not making eye contact, unable to speak for themselves, no control over personal documents, and/or chronically running away are all signs of human trafficking,” said Villarreal.