Human trafficking turns out to be Houston’s most terrifying horror story

Imagine: One morning, you wake up. You are lying on the floor in a dark, damp room. You are scared and alone. When you finally get up, you pray today will be better than yesterday, but once you hear the sound of his voice, your prayers disappear.

He walks toward you with anger in his eyes, yelling at the top of his lungs. He beats you. He starves you. For days, weeks and years on end, he uses you as though you are nothing more than a piece of property — his personal slave.

No one is there to help you. There is no escape.

This is the reality for the 12.3 million individuals around the world who have been forced into human trafficking, according to the federal CASE Act’s online factsheet. The United Nations defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons by improper means — such as force, abduction, fraud or coercion — for an improper purpose, including forced labor or sexual exploitation.”

Human trafficking is the second-largest and fastest-growing organized criminal industry in the world, bringing in an estimated revenue of between $9 billion and $32 billion annually, according to the General Board of Global Ministries.

As reported by the UN, at any given time, there are approximately 2.5 million people being exploited for trafficking purposes. The UN also reports that at least 17,500 of them will be trafficked into, or are already in, the United States. These individuals are abused, scared and sold into a life of slavery.

Children At Risk shows that 25 percent of all human trafficking in the US is happening in Texas. Houston has been called by the Polaris Project as one of the major hubs because of its close proximity to major industrial ports and the Mexican border. Houston business policies open the door to human trafficking by keeping lenient regulations.

As a result, there are more than 250 small businesses in the Houston area that are known to profit from the exploitation of women, children and men through the commercial sex industry, forced labor and domestic servitude, according to Children at Risk.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker and other local representatives have voiced their concerns by sending the message that trafficking will not be tolerated in our community.

City officials have created a task force to tighten existing small-business regulations in order to end human trafficking. Local representatives have also partnered with nonprofit and faith-based organizations in Houston to educate citizens about the warning signs typical of trafficking situations and to encourage and empower survivors to share their stories and give a face to modern slavery.

However, political efforts alone will not be enough to end human trafficking. Many Houston restaurants and small businesses are still forcing individuals to work for free while loyal customers turn a blind eye to it, according to the Polaris Project.

That is why it is our turn to step up and take responsibility as a community for the human trafficking in Houston.

My challenge to you is to become a part of the fight against human trafficking. Educate yourself on the signs of trafficking and know the hotlines and organizations you can contact if you come across something suspicious in the community.

Challenge yourself to take action and be the voice for these victims. Be a part of the fight, and together our voices will ring out for justice and for the millions of people dreaming of an escape from the epidemic of present-day slavery.

Begin your fight against human trafficking and learn more about how you can be involved by attending the event “Beyond the Shadows: Open Your Eyes to Human Trafficking,” from 6 to 9 p.m. on Nov. 6 at the Graduate College of Social Work in Auditorium 101.

Arielle Stephens is a social work graduate student and may be reached at [email protected]


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