Texas has the 2nd Highest Volume of Human Trafficking Cases
During the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a sharp increase in the number of crisis calls.
Beyond this, online trafficking activities are soaring as criminals rapidly adapt to the changing landscape.
The Lone Star State has identified 2455 victims and survivors of human trafficking from over 2000 calls placed to the hotline, second only to California in this regard. The hotline now also includes alternative methods of communication for victims like texting.
As a result of calls to this hotline, 515 traffickers were identified along with 240 business linked to this illegal trade.
A Polaris analysis comparing calls to the hotline over three separate periods in 2020 to the same periods in 2019 shows that the crisis has got 40% worse. Furthermore, the pandemic has made these victims even more vulnerable.
The cases identified after calls made to the hotline only represents a small fraction of the real number of human trafficking victims. The definition of human trafficking extends to anyone duped or coerced into forced labor, prostitution, or domestic servitude.
Houston is a human trafficking hub, so the issue has gained traction and awareness in the city. The reality of human trafficking is hard to gauge as it’s a mainly hidden crime flourishing in businesses masquerading as legal entities.
According to a University of Texas study:
“…there are more than 300,000 victims of human trafficking in Texas, including almost 79,000 minors and youth victims of sex trafficking and nearly 234,000 adult victims of labor trafficking. Minor and youth sex trafficking costs the state of Texas approximately $6.6 billion annually, and traffickers exploit approximately $600 million from victims of labor trafficking in Texas. There are 310,000 victims of human trafficking in the state at any one moment. Most of these, 234,500, are victims of labor trafficking. Of the remainder, 79,000 are youths and minors involved in sex trafficking.”
The Pandemic has Driven Victims of Human Trafficking Even Further Underground
Agencies offering support and services to victims have also been impacted by the pandemic leaving them unable to take on new clients. There are 500 beds across the county for trafficking victims. Many of these shelters have restrictions in place due to COVID-19.
Human trafficking is prevalent in industries affected heavily y the pandemic like restaurants, bars, and hospitality. The criminals have simply shifted their activities online. More and more trafficking victims are forced to have sex on camera. As porn consumption has increased during lockdowns, so has the demand for more and more cam sex operators.
Although many men have avoided paying for sex due to social distancing concerns, those who still seek it out tend to be the most violent and the most reckless.
The effects of the pandemic have also made victims more vulnerable to exposure to traffickers. Minors escaping from abusive parents can easily get sucked in by traffickers. Immigrants can be more easily coerced into working for poor conditions and low or no pay.
Vulnerability is the common theme in human trafficking, regardless of race, age, or background. It is an extreme form of gender-based violence. To tackle human trafficking it’s not enough to increases services for victims and to prosecute their exploiters. It’s also key to continue awareness.