It's terrifying when a child goes missing or runs away from home. Experts estimate one in five at-risk runaways ends up becoming a sex trafficking victim.
The problem is especially prevalent in Texas, where one-third of victims are younger than 25.
On Wednesday, advocacy groups gathered at the Texas State Capitol to urge lawmakers to fight human trafficking with stricter laws.
Six bills aimed at fighting human trafficking have so far been filed this legislative session. These bills range from stricter punishment for offenders to better reporting along interstates and borders and even driver training on how to spot human trafficking.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center says Texas has the second-highest number of calls for human trafficking in the nation, behind California.
According to a study conducted by the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault at the University of Texas, there are 313,000 victims of human trafficking in Texas. That includes almost 79,000 minor victims of sex trafficking and nearly 234,000 adult victims of labor trafficking.
Experts estimate one-third of victims are trafficked through Texas at some point due to major interstates such as I-10. That's why community awareness and involvement is so important.
"That is what will make this stop,” explained Susan Peters, the executive director for UnBound in Waco. Peters also heads up the Heart of Texas Human Trafficking Coalition. “In 2013, we only had one human trafficking investigation. In 2014, we had 26. And in 2015, we had 83. So as the community collaboration and education has gone up, we've seen 300 percent growth in actual cases being prosecuted."
Peters said it all starts with strong legislation, which can empower communities with the resources they need to fight human trafficking.
Advocates strive for three things:
- Prevention: educate at-risk youth on spotting the traps that human traffickers use (for example, staying safe on social media, where many victims meet their abusers).
- Training: teach people how to recognize a victim -- especially people like teachers and hospital staff, who may encounter victims more often.
- Survivor Advocacy: provide for the immediate needs of someone recently rescued.
The rally began at 11 a.m. on the South steps of the Capitol.
To learn more about all bills relating to human trafficking filed in the 2017 legislative session, go here.