Our geographic location in Texas makes our state a prime location to transport human trafficking victims into the United States. Thousands of adults and children are victims every year, and forced into slavery for labor and abusive criminal cartels for sex trafficking of minors.
A recent study from the University of Texas provided an estimate that there are more than 300,000 victims currently in the state of Texas. The effects of youth sex trafficking costs Texas more than $6 billion dollars per year in legal and administration to combat the growing problem. And it is a crisis level problem in Houston Texas.
Worldwide, it is estimated that 25 million people are enslaved through human trafficking, but in Texas, some organizations feel that there are right now, as many as 234,000 victims of labor trafficking. In Texas, it is estimated that 79,000 of those victims are minors and children. Studies show that 83% of trafficked victims are actually American citizens.
Because of the nature of human trafficking, the transportation of victims is generally done by trucks that are disguised as cargo or drayage. From the outside, it is almost impossible to detect the illegal activity from a standard drayage truck and shipment.
There are new initiatives underway in Texas to increase vigilance and training for truck drivers to recognize the signs of human trafficking and intervene in a safe way, to help victims and authorities stop the criminal activity. In this article, we’ll talk about the alarming growth of this crime, and how members of the trucking industry in Texas can make an impact, to stop human trafficking.
Partnering with Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT)
Our team at Canal Cartage is pleased to announce that we have partnered to promote awareness of human trafficking, intervention and prevention. Canal Cartage has provided educational resources to our owner-operators and training, in compliance with TAT guidelines, to be part of the solution.
Truckers Against Trafficking educates, equips, empowers and mobilizes members of the trucking and travel plaza industries to recognize the signs of trafficking. Learn more: www.truckersagainsttrafficking.org. Canal Cartage owner-operators and staff are part of the over half a million truck drivers trained to identify and report potential victims of human trafficking.
How Big is the Problem of Human Trafficking in Texas?
According to a non-profit group called ‘Human Trafficking Search’, Texas receives about 10% of all calls into the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline. New data released by the Texas Department of Public Safety provided these startling facts:
- There were 957 suspected victims and 1,057 reported and suspected incidents of human trafficking reported in Texas since 2007.
- By 2014, there were 99 individuals incarcerated in Texas prisons, after being convicted of human trafficking or compelling forced sex crimes on trafficked victims.
- Charges for human trafficking in the state of Texas rose from 20 charges in 2010 to 101 charges in 2013.
Sex trafficking is not the most common motive for human trafficking through the state of Texas. Many companies hire cheap labor, acquiring groups of forced laborers through human trafficking syndicates. Because most people are not aware of the problem, the evidence of slavery is sometimes right in front of our faces.
The industries that illegally source trafficked individuals are:
- The food service industry (restaurants).
- Traveling carnivals.
- Food processing and manufacturing.
- Home health services.
- Agricultural (farms and ranches).
- Commercial or residential cleaning services.
- The construction industry.
- Nail and aesthetics salons.
Individuals who are trafficked, are not always trying to escape because they are being held captive. In many cases, the individuals have been smuggled (frequently in shipping containers and through other methods) into the United States. These victims may also pay a recruitment fee to the traffickers, who promise them safe transport and then a job when they arrive as an illegal immigrant to the United States.
Why Don’t Human Trafficking Victims Get Help or Run Away?
The problem is first, they have no legal status having circumvented the required immigration procedures. They are good at ‘hiding’ and are generally paid cash under the table, because of their illegal status in the Country. But doesn’t that make them complicit in the whole problem, having agreed to participate in illegal immigration?
What happens is that these victims agree to recruitment fees for the service in advance. The fees that they are required to pay are stifling; and that’s done deliberately. Because they are being paid cash under the table, a trafficked worker has no rights, and can be paid as little as $3.00 per hour.
How do human traffickers keep their victims from running away? They provide housing for them with other victims, and with the substandard wage, the individual is constantly working to pay off their debt to the trafficker. Sadly, the system is structured that they may never fully pay off that debt, and fearful of the authorities, they remain enslaved in their contract and within the criminal syndicate for labor or other services.
In some cases, for naturalized (or American citizens) who are victims of trafficking, they withhold their identification, and prohibit them from having money or access to a telephone. They become prisoners, in a life-threatening situation.
Legal Penalties for Human Trafficking in the United States
The legal penalties for a crime of human trafficking depends on the number of victims involved, and if any other violent acts were committed against the victim(s). If a citizen is convicted of holding an individual in peonage (forced slavery) they can face up to 20 years in prison and additional fines, with a minimum of 10-years of incarceration.
If the sex trafficking charge involves minors, it carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. With cases that involve organized crime syndicates for human trafficking, forfeiture of assets including proceeds of crime, and mandatory payment of restitution to the victims, as determined by the court.
What are some of the common signs of human trafficking?
- Groups of young children, women or men who have the exact same tattoo.
- Visible signs of abuse, or control that appear abnormal.
- Victims who are in poor health, dress poorly (summer clothes in cold weather) or who appear fearful and are not permitted to answer questions.
- Knocking sounds from the inside of drayage containers, vans or moving trucks.
- Abnormal traffic to a residential home or commercial business, particularly during weekends and during business hours (when most people are at work).
- Absence of personal identification.
If you suspect human trafficking, you can submit an anonymous tip to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. For immediate help or to speak directly with a hotline advocate, call 888-373-7888.
Anti-Trafficking Training Initiatives and Programs for Truckers
The Attorney General of Texas Ken Paxton, released a new video of real stories from victims from Texas, and residents of Texas who decided to “Be the One” to say and do something to intervene, and save a life. It’s a really powerful video because it hits close to home.
During the first week of February this year (2020) Governor Greg Abbott and First Lady Cecilia Abbott will help kick off a critical event combatting human trafficking. If you see something that makes you suspect human trafficking, you should not directly intervene, but record evidence if you can, and contact local authorities to report your suspicions. Don’t look the other way; be the person that does something, because you could save someone’s life, and help combat this growing problem.