45.8 Million

Estimated Number of Slaves Worldwide

$ 150 Billion

Profits Generated Annually for Traffickers

313,000

Estimated victims of Human Trafficking in Texas

The U.S. Department of Justice identified the I-10 corridor as the #1 human trafficking route in the U.S. with as many as 1 in 4 victims passing through Houston.

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “slavery”?

I don’t know what comes to your mind when you hear the word “slavery”, but perhaps for most of us, our minds go immediately to the atrocities of the slave trade of the 1800s. However, slavery is not a thing of the past.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery. Victims of human trafficking are subjected to force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. Victims are young children, teenagers, men and women.”

There are approximately 45.8 million slaves in the world today. Traffickers prey upon the misfortunes and vulnerabilities of their victims in order to exploit them for their own selfish gain. Traffickers brutally dehumanize their victims to maintain control over them. The physical and psychological trauma caused by human-trafficking is devastating.

Human trafficking is a form of slavery that has been going on for many centuries and is still alive and well and spreading throughout the United States and the world. According to Polaris, “human traffickers use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage, and other forms of coercion to compel adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will. Under U.S. federal law, any minor under the age of 18 years induced into commercial sex is a victim of human trafficking—regardless of whether or not the trafficker used force, fraud, or coercion.”

Human trafficking is occurring in a range of venues including online ads or escort services, fake massage parlors, residential brothels, cantinas, on the street or at truck stops, or at hotels and motels (Polaris). It is important to note that the internet has become a hotbed for traffickers and buyers, making it easier for them to generate business and spread out.

While we may imagine this nefarious business happening in other corners of the world, the truth is that it is happening in our own city, in our own backyard. The U.S. Department of Justice identified the I-10 corridor as the #1human trafficking route in the U.S. with as many as 1 in 4 victims passing through Houston.” “There have been 957 suspected victims and 1,057 suspected human trafficking incidents reported by Texas-based reporting agencies to federal databases since 2007.”

In 2012, the Mayor of Houston formed a taskforce to address the issue of sex trafficking in Houston. The suburbs of Houston in recent years have also begun to realize the presence of sex trafficking. In January of 2015 Fort Bend County recognized that their criminal justice system and social services were not adequate to deal with growing problem of sex slavery, and they followed the City of Houston in creating a task force to begin addressing the problem. Online sex classifieds in the Katy and Sugar Land areas have born witness to the presence of sex slavery and trafficking of minors in our area. Police have learned to look for descriptions like “baby doll,” “low mileage,” and “new in town” to describe minors being sold for sex.

The presence of these red flags is an indication that further assessment may be necessary to identify a potential human trafficking situation. This list is not exhaustive and represents only a selection of possible indicators. Also, the red flags in this list may not be present in all trafficking cases and are not cumulative. Indicators reference conditions a potential victim might exhibit.

Warning Signs

  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Lacks medical care and/or is denied medical services by employer
  • Appears malnourished or shows signs of repeated exposure to harmful chemicals
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)
  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or of what city he/she is in

Human trafficking is a multi-faceted problem and it’s not enough for us to simply react. We must understand the root of the problem and apply wisdom in seeking to understand the issue of human trafficking because this abysmal business is multi-faceted. Greed and lust give way to terrible acts of cruelty, and dealing with the demand is paramount if we are ever going to see the supply eradicated.

We may recall stories of brave abolitionists like William Wilberforce and Frederick Douglass. But the abolition movement is not a thing of the past. In fact, if you listen, you will hear the roar of a new generation of freedom fighters calling out once again for men and women to rise up and speak up on behalf of the oppressed and demoralized who have been deceived and trapped in a ruthless industry that generates billions of dollars by inflicting great terror and abuse on vulnerable people. As we look back over history we will see that the gospel has always been the greatest force for social reform. We are standing on the shoulders of great men and women, who moved by the Spirit of God, spoke out and acted courageously in defense of the voiceless and oppressed. In the wake of true Christianity, mercy, justice and love flow and give way to courageous and Christ-like endeavors.

Our own lives bear witness to the fact that there is no life too broken for Christ to heal. There is not problem too difficult or complex that He cannot overcome. So, we do not lose heart in doing good because scripture says that where sin abounds, grace abounds more (Romans 5:20). So in the face of this terrible problem of trafficking, we look to the cross and find all the power we need to fight the good fight of faith on behalf of every trafficking victim.

An estimated $150 billion a year is generated by the human trafficking industry. Both sex trafficking and labor trafficking thrive because, in most parts of the world, the exploitation of vulnerable populations is very high profit and low risk.

Human trafficking situations look very differently across the world.

  • Many victims are deceived by what they thought was a romantic situation. This is often referred to as the “lover-boy” scenario where a trafficker preys upon a vulnerable young woman, woos her, gains her trust and then forces or manipulates her into prostitution.
  • Other victims are promised jobs and are sometimes smuggled across borders thinking they will be working in a restaurant or some other business, only to arrive and be handed over to a cantina or brothel owner and forced to work as a sex slave.
  • In some cases, victims are sold by their own parents or other family members for financial gain.
  • In all of these cases, victims are “broken in” which means they are violently raped and abused, threatened, and terrorized into a complete place of submission so that they will not run away or turn their trafficker in. The effects of this kind of cruelty and manipulation are devastating.

Simple economics show a lack of demand results in a lack of supply. The demand for slavery has always existed throughout history. We cannot deny that. But there are a couple of key factors in our society today that have increased the demand for modern-day slavery dramatically.

Siddharth Kara is a Fellow with the Carr Center Program on Human Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. In the International Harvard Review, Kara explains, “Modern-day slavery is immensely more profitable than past forms of slavery. This is the key factor driving the tremendous demand for new slaves through human trafficking networks. Whereas slaves in 1850 could be purchased for a global weighted average of between US$9,500 and US$11,000 (adjusted for inflation) and generate roughly 15 to 20 percent in annual return on investment, today’s slaves sell for a global weighted average of US$420 and can generate 300 to 500 percent or more in annual return on investment, depending on the industry.”

This shows not only a decrease in the value of a human life, but an increase in the intensity of the exploitation. In the case of sex trafficking, this is often seen at its most extreme: while the pimp might pay a high initial upfront cost, the victim is then repeatedly re-sold, over and over again to sex buyers.

“Trafficking is not always abductions. It’s a slow, gradual expansion of boundaries and an increase of trust.” Rebecca Bender, a Survivor Leader in the movement to eradicate modern day slavery.