Texans and Americans alike need to be aware of ongoing human slavery that tarnished the I-10 freeway and they need to know how they can stop the plague of Human Trafficking on Houston Texas. This past January, President Barack Obama recognized Human Trafficking Awareness month. In a published statement the President said he wanted to, “recognize the people, organizations and government entities that are working to combat human trafficking,” and “recommit to bringing an end to this inexcusable human rights abuse.” According to the U.S. Department of Justice human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal industries, with 14,500-17,500 individuals trafficked in the United States each year and 800,000 globally. With a number of contributing factors, including a diverse immigrant population and major roads for domestic and international travel, Houston is a hotspot for human trafficking in the U.S. According to Religion Link, “Nongovernmental organizations and nonprofits are now enlisting the aid of religious groups in the fight against human trafficking.”
In Houston, organizations like the YMCA, the Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition, Free the Captives and Redeemed Ministries are all part of an entrenched alliance of non-profits, both secular and religious, fighting human trafficking in Houston. Constance Rossiter of the YMCA said, “These partnerships with religious organizations and other non-profits are essential to combatting human trafficking.” “There are many levels, it’s like a puzzle,” she said, “fighting human trafficking takes a community of partners including non-profits, churches, synagogues and law enforcement.” Each entity has its role to play, whether it be prevention, lobbying for legislation, advocation, awareness or enforcement, said Rossiter. Free the Captives, a Houston based Christian non-profit, does it all. Having long been involved in education and counseling for at-risk teenagers and potential pimps, Free the Captives is also active in trying to go after suppliers and buyers in the human trafficking market.
Working with attorneys, Free the Captives seeks to shut down trafficking locations by using nuisance abatement laws and other tactics. Taking the fight one step further, the organization recently began lobbying the Houston mayor’s office and local and federal law enforcement to focus on the demand side of the trafficking trade. Calling it the “Reduce the Demand Campaign,” the non-profit believes it is the primary solution in ending human trafficking. “To make an impact on domestic sex trafficking you have to go after the buyers,” said a representative from Free the Captives, whose identity is protected due to recent threats made by traffickers. “It does not matter how many pimps and landlords there are if the buyers are still willing to pay and there is money to be made,” said the anonymous source, “other pimps and landlords will pop up. You can’t stem the tide without going after the source.”
For their part, the Mayor’s Office and the Houston Police Department believe that human trafficking is a major problem and are sincere in enforcing existing laws. In a letter from 2010, Mayor Annise Parker acknowledged the growing problem and said, “Houston is a hub for Human Trafficking where approximately twenty percent of all human trafficking victims will pass through our city at some point of their enslavement.” The Mayor’s Office recently reiterated the importance of fighting human trafficking and in a response to Free the Captives said, “Controlling sex trafficking remains of great concern. The governmental focus on landlords and illegal business has brought results. In the last year and a half the Houston Police Department has recovered 73 juveniles, arrested 21 pimps and two “Johns,” or buyers,” said Lieutenant Andy Lahaye.
To do more the police are training their patrol offices to identify trafficking situations and be able to respond or pass on a tip for the vice department to investigate. However, Lahaye commented that it is difficult to go after the buyers and said, “It’s an underground world, we can’t just put an undercover officer out there as a decoy to catch a ‘John.’” “It’s all very subsurface, so we are going after what is out there for us to see, even though we want to cut it off at the source. That’s the struggle we are battling.” Free the Captives continues to demand the focus be shifted to the buyers. Although, many of the domestic victims in the world are not being pimped out in spaces that need landlords.
While the mayor and law enforcement focuses on landlords they are almost entirely missing vulnerable American teens in private locales. They remain in bondage. Prevention is a key component to the fight against human trafficking and more organizations, not just faith based organizations like Free the Captives, need to focus their energies on prevention and curbing the supply of victims being exploited. In addition to existing enforcement the lobbying efforts of everyday citizens are paying dividends. While there are some great efforts to end human trafficking in Houston, organizations cannot function without active members. There is always something to help with.