Editor’s Note: This is the final installment in a four-part series on human trafficking.
As discussion about immigration and border patrol grows increasingly heated and political, a group of Houston parents continues trying to raise awareness about another matter that hits close to home: human trafficking.
Sealy and Austin County law enforcement officials have said that sex trafficking, human trafficking and smuggling aren’t exactly plaguing the local area – simply because it’s more difficult to hide an illegal operation in a small community. But it’s definitely happening in Houston and Katy, and while there are many educational resources, at humantraffickinghouston.org, for example, those concerned about it still seem to feel a little helpless.
“It’s like the war on drugs,” said Sealy Police Sgt. James Long. “Are we ever going to stop it? I don’t know.”
John Clark, founder of Operation Texas Shield, said while it’s common knowledge that there’s a massive trafficking problem in Houston, the perpetrators aren’t being punished to the extent that they could be.
“These are gifted conmen,” Clark said. “They know how to recognize teens that are vulnerable and they prey on those with low self-esteem. They make more money than drug dealers. It’s a reusable product; drugs are a consumable product. When they do get arrested, they rarely get charged with anything serious.”
The grooming process involves six key actions, according to Clark:
A pimp targeting a young girl for sex trafficking may assign a “groomer” or “recruiter” to get close to the girl, Clark said. Sometimes it’s a beautiful young girl like Rachel Thomas, who got sucked into a life of prostitution after she thought she was being recruited by a modeling agency. With few options for escape and a pimp who told her he now owned her, she began recruiting other girls for him.
Thomas was eventually able to get out when law enforcement became involved, but many are not so lucky.
It’s a scary thought for parents who used to be able to drop their kids off at the mall or let them spend the weekend at a friend’s house without fully vetting the situation, says Allison Daughtry, who heads up a committee of concerned community leaders that meets at a church in Houston a few times each month and is assembling a group of experts for an upcoming symposium on the topic.
Prayer, Daughtry said, is one of the most important tools for those who are concerned about the matter. Her group aims to educate youth and parents but also is seeking information on how to rehabilitate offenders and get people out of dangerous situations.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and speaker presentations will be lined up at Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church along with a daily program of prayer.
During a September meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, a call to action was issued to end modern slavery, forced labor and human trafficking by 2030.
“Such exploitation destroys the lives of individuals, erodes security in communities, and undermines the prosperity of nations,” states a report from the gathering.
While the challenge is large and looming heavily over the heads of lawmakers, parents and average citizens, there could be a softer, simpler approach, some suggest.
“I think we could put together scripture and prayer for each day in January for the survivors, the users, pimps, families, recovery program workers and law enforcement,” said Karen Jacobson, a member of the Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church committee. “We can get the word out to other churches to join the effort. I’d love to see something like this become a city-wide undertaking and even spread nationally since it is such a horrific problem. I think many of us feel helpless to end this problem by ourselves, but we can all pray. Collectively it will raise awareness and may work miracles.”