I sat down in the Houston courtroom. I looked around noting other anti-trafficking advocates who were also there to observe the federal criminal trial of Hortencia Medeles Arguello known as “Tencha”. Several women were to testify about their trafficking ordeal and Tencha’s role as a ring leader. Tencha had trafficked and sold girls as young as 14 to men for the purpose of sex for more than 6 years. The books showed that Tencha had made $1.6 million dollars in just 19 months. This is why human trafficking exists. Greed that is willing to sell or exploit someone for the purpose of labor or sex and indifference that is willing to purchase a human being as a commodity for sensual pleasure or lower labor costs. Men, women, and children are exploited and used by sellers and buyers alike.
Houston is now noted as the number one city in the United States for human trafficking. With Interstate 10 being the nation’s top corridor for trafficking, proximity to the border and major air and sea ports, the Department of Justice estimates that one in four victims of human trafficking pass through Houston at some point during their trafficking experience. We have more sexually based businesses per square mile than the city of Las Vegas. Houston regularly has five times more sex ads in places like backpage.com than Manhattan and New Jersey had during the Super Bowl. In a nationwide sting a few months ago 506 johns (men who purchase sex) were arrested. Seventy six of them were here in the Houston area. Former Sheriff Adrian Garcia notes that sex trafficking is only the tip of the ice berg for our city. It is estimated that 75% of trafficking taking place here is labor trafficking.
Houston, we have a problem! But this is a problem we can eliminate! How?
· We can call the human trafficking hotline with anything suspicious. 1-888-3737-888.
· We can be fair when we hire temporary or day help.
· We can ask workers questions when we are in restaurants, hotels, nail salons, etc
· We can learn how to shop fair trade and lead our churches to do the same.
· We can urge our law enforcement and legislators to deal more forcefully with the issue. Particularly we can advocate for laws and enforcement of laws that make not only the selling illegal but the purchasing as well.
· We can address immigration reform.
· We can address the vulnerabilities that lead to the exploitation such as poverty, human rights, gender empowerment, etc.
· We can sign petitions and boycott companies that use forced labor.
· We can educate health care professionals, educators, law enforcement, those in the tourist industry, truck drivers, etc regarding trafficking.
· We can conduct campaigns placing cards and the hotline number in truck stops, restaurants, hotels, and salons.
· We can offer programs to help day laborers better their situation.
· We can be observant!
If you have taken the time to read this article, will you take a few minutes more and pray? Watch this virtual prayer walk regarding human trafficking.