Modern-day slavery in America

January 25, 2016
Editorial

Rep. Will Hurd, Guest columnist for the El Paso Times10:32 p.m. MST January 24, 2016

Let’s talk about a crime that can impact anyone, anywhere. It does not matter if you’re rich or poor. No race or gender is exempt.

Many would prefer to believe this crime only happens in movies or television shows. But it could be happening in your community.

This crime is a form of modern-day slavery called human trafficking.

It is a frightening topic that is hard to talk about. We would like to believe that slavery has been eradicated.

In the 21st century, no man, woman or child should be held in captivity, forced to engage in activities against their will.

Yet, it is believed that 21 to 30 million people are currently victims of human trafficking in our world. Half of the 800,000 people trafficked every year across international borders are believed to be children. At least 80 percent are female.

Some are forced to work in factories or fields in deplorable conditions. That is bad enough.

But far worse, many of them are victims of sex trafficking. This includes children. In fact, between 12 to 14 years old is the average age of a child that enters the sex trade in the United States.

It is estimated that 60,000 people are currently human trafficking victims in our country.

Human trafficking occurs in every state, but states with international borders see a greater share of it. Texas, which has the longest stretch of border with Mexico, sees the second-highest number of human trafficking cases – more than 2,100 reported cases since 2007.

I hope these numbers have gotten your attention. Even more importantly, I hope you feel motivated to do something about it.

First, know that your government, at every level, is working to find ways to stop it.

In Congress, we have passed legislation to help the known victims and their families, to help foster cooperation between law enforcement to identify and stop the criminals, and to enforce harsher penalties on human traffickers, including categorizing them as violent criminals.

We are already seeing positive results from the Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking bill that was signed into law last year.

Our state government is also taking this issue very seriously. Texas was one of the first states to pass anti-human-trafficking laws in 2003. The Texas Human Trafficking Prevent Task Force was established seven years ago and works with local law enforcement to find and stop human trafficking, as well as give our state legislature recommendations on steps they can take to help.

As important as actions taken at the federal and state level might be, the best and first line of defense is at the local level.

City and county law enforcement work daily to identify human traffickers in your neighborhoods. Children in the foster care systems are some of the most vulnerable targets, making constant vigilance imperative for the social workers and other volunteers who work to protect these young people.

You can also make a difference. Do you know the signs of human trafficking? They can be subtle – easily missed or dismissed.

I encourage you to visit the website www.TraffickingResourceCenter.org and learn more about potential red flags.

If you see something, say something. If you are not sure who to contact, you can call the Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.

Taking action can be scary, but your willingness to make that call could save someone’s life.

Will Hurd represents the 23rd Congressional District of Texas, including portions of El Paso County.