Several years ago, Sandra Spencer said she blithely assumed sex trafficking was something that occurred outside the United States.
“Well, the scales fell from my eyes, so to speak, when I attended the Texas Conference for Women in 2002,” said Spencer, a professor and the director of the Women and Gender Studies program at University of North Texas.
Spencer spoke to a full room as part of the University of Houston-Victoria Provost’s Lecture Series on Monday about “Human Trafficking in Texas,” an event that was also sponsored by Crossroads Progressive Voices.
An estimated 30 million people are being trafficked worldwide for both labor and sex purposes, 80 percent of whom are women and children, Spencer said.
“If we aren’t concerned about the adults, we better be concerned about the children,” Spencer said. “Because they are going to inherit this Earth, and we want to make sure we’ve left them a proper one to inherit.”
Human trafficking brings in $32 billion in profits per year.
“Modern-day slavery is widespread,” Spencer said. “It’s present in every country in the world.”
Texas is the major hub for human trafficking in the country for reasons including the I-10 highway corridor and the state’s long international border, Spencer said.
One in five human trafficking victims in the United States have passed through Texas, Spencer said.
“We have large cities, such as Houston, Dallas and San Antonio,” Spencer said. “These cities attract a lot of runaways that think they can fade away into the fabric of the city and not be found.”
Runaways are usually identified and approached by traffickers within 48 hours, Spencer said.
Lisa Campbell, director of the Victoria City-County Health Department, thanked Spencer for the discussion and said professionals in the medical and health industries should be wary of signs of human trafficking.
“With the oil and gas industry, we’ve seen a lot of human trafficking in our area,” Campbell said. “We need to work to educate our health care providers with the importance of what to look for in human trafficking victims.”
Some have barcodes tattooed to their lips and other body parts, Campbell said.
“As a community, we can’t turn a blind eye,” Campbell said. “When you have girls continually coming with sexually transmitted diseases, that’s when you need to start asking more questions.”
Evelyn Burleson, Calhoun County Democratic Party chairwoman, said she is happy to hear the discussion about human trafficking occurring outside the church community.
“I cannot believe that it goes on right underneath our noses,” Burleson said.
This article was written by Carolina Astrain from Victoria Advocate, Texas and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.