Some Christians are taking an active role in stopping what could be called a pandemic in the State of Texas: Human trafficking.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 50,000 people are trafficked from foreign countries into the US every year and at least 25% of them are brought in through Texas.
According to The National Human Trafficking Hotline, since 2007, there have been over 5,800 Texas trafficking cases. Over 600 of these cases happened in 2019.
While the trafficking ranges in type, sex trafficiking is among the more severe challenges, according to Sonia Morales, co-founder of the Christian nonprofit Find Our Missing: Evan’s Hope, which helps to locate missing children and rescue young women who are victims of human trafficking - specificall in Texas and the surrounding area.
The most common types of human sex trafficking in Texas include hotel trafficking, commercial front brothel trafficking and Romeo/boyfriend pimp trafficking.
She said the victims range from 12 to 45 and are both make and female. Some of them are illegal immigrants, while others are US citizens.
The victims are recruited through several different channels, Morales said. These can include providing for a person in need, giving them fake jobs or pretending to recruit them to be models. Another common ploy is “boyfriend pimping,” which is when a trafficker builds a false intimate relationship with a potential victim and then uses the connection to exploit or manipulate the person.
Labor trafficking is equally as widespread in Texas, despite the state having taken significant steps to combat it in the last 10 years.
There are multiple high-risk labor trafficking segments throughout Texas, including construction, cleaning services, restaurants, landscaping companies, as well as migrant farmworkers, and meat-processing facilities, Morales said. In addition, there are over 35,000 agriculture workers who face abusive employers every year and stay quiet out of fear of losing their work visas and being deported.
Most of these workers do not know they have labor rights, which results in the workers becoming victims of forced labor. In addition, many of them don’t realize that the fees they are made to pay by their supervisors and managers for work visa employment are illegal.
Morales said that employers and workplaces tend to specifically target migrant workers, who are desperate for work.
The Jerusalem Post caught up with Morales to learn more about her organization’s efforts:
What is Find Our Missing doing to fight human trafficking?
“One of our biggest priorities is searching for people that have been reported missing, mostly teens and young adults,” Morales said. “We have a team with boots on the ground throughout communities doing searches. We work with families who request our services for search and rescue and provide counseling for those searching for loved ones and victims once they have been found. Our organization works alongside law enforcement agencies and on our own.”
Find Our Missing started in 2019 as a Facebook page for missing people but has since grown and evolved. Morales said the organization has helped in 360 searches for missing people and only 30 are still open. On average, Find Our Missing handles 125 to 150 investigations each year.
Can you define human trafficking in laymen’s terms?
“By dictionary definition, human trafficking involves using force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act,” Morales explained. “Human trafficking is when a victim is smooth-talked, usually into the sex industry. The traffickers will recruit and harbor the victims, selling them lies of a glamorous life and profession.
“When the victim realizes what they’ve signed up for, it’s too late,” she continued. “They normally find themselves dependent on their trafficker for provisions such as food and shelter. More often than not, the victim is being given addictive drugs, creating even more dependency on the trafficker.”
Christians often assume that human trafficking is something that only plagues developing countries. Many people do not want to admit that it could be happening in the United States. Why do you think that is?
“Christians can be oblivious,” Morales responded. “We choose not to look at the darkness of the world, especially if it’s not visible in our daily lives. Out of sight, out of mind is a way of life too many of us have grown accustomed to. Something is less likely to get our attention when we are not feeling the effects, especially when we don’t even know what we should be looking for.”
Can you explain why human trafficking is more pronounced in areas like the Rio Grande Valley along the US-Mexico border?
“Because of how many people are undocumented at the border, there’s no way that they can be tracked,” Morales explained. “So when transports don’t arrive for people who have either made it across the border illegally or have been caught and are returned to the border, they become easy prey for traffickers … because no one will be looking for them. When they cannot make it across the border illegally themselves, they look for any way into the United States they can. They agree to work off a fee to get across the border, blind to the fact they are now slaves to the human trafficking industry.”
What can people do to get more involved in fighting human trafficking?
“The primary thing people can do, especially Christians, is to start talking more about the significance of the problem,” Morales said. “The more human trafficking is talked about, the better things will be.”
She said that there is little the police can do, especually when it comes to children, because potential human trafficking victims are often classified as runaways instead of missing.
“This is why it is so important for organizations such as ours to get involved as quickly as possible,” Morales stressed. “The more human trafficking is being discussed, the better prepared potential victims will be, and the more complicated the business will become for traffickers.”