SAFE Alliance is combatting human trafficking in Texas.
By Phaedra Rogers
It’s time for a pop quiz: Which scenario do you think best describes how most victims are lured into sex trafficking?
B.a relationship in which one partner feels basic needs are being met, even if the relationship is an abusive one
C. being from another country
If you answered B, you’re correct. While it’s true that a small fraction of victims are kidnapped, many exploited youth are trafficked by people they know. Many times, they’re fleeing abusive homes or relationships, which can make them vulnerable to anyone who appears to care for them. While some so-called helpers are often referred to as “pimps,” they don’t always fit the media image of characters lurking the dark city streets. They fall into a wide spectrum of exploiters: They can be boyfriends, family members, friends or just acquaintances.
There are approximately 300,000 cases of human trafficking in Texas, with 79,000 instances involving minors between the ages of 12 and 18. Think of it this way: The number of total trafficking cases in the state roughly equals the population of Corpus Christi, Texas, and the number of Texas cases involving youth equals about the population of Galveston, Texas.
SAFE Alliance, or Stop Abuse for Everyone, is combatting these statistics by assisting survivors through its Collaboration, Advocacy, Response and Engagement for Survivors program. CARES is a comprehensive program offering 24/7 crisis response, a drop-in center, survivor advocacy, therapy and support for those who have been affected by sex trafficking. Like the points on a compass, CARES aims to guide survivors down their individual paths to healing.
As Kari Hamilton, senior director of residential and CARES services points out, “We meet them in a way they haven’t been met before. It’s a complex trauma, and meeting the needs of survivors isn’t a one-size-fits- all proposition.”
CARES keeps its doors open thanks to funding from state grants and private donors. But just as funding keeps CARES’ heart beating, the organization needs help from the community to keep the program alive and well.
“We always need basics like food and hygiene supplies,” Hamilton says. “But on a larger scale, we direly need foster families who can take in survivors of exploitation [that]are minors and in custody of the state.”
Here’s how you can help:
1. Put together care packages that include new socks, underwear and toiletries. Gift cards, even in amounts as minimal as $5 to $10, to grocery stores or restaurants are also always appreciated, as many of the survivors battle hunger issues.
2. Donate money directly to SAFE CARES.
3. Volunteer your time at CARES. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about specific ways you can help.
If you or anyone you know needs help, call the 24/7 SAFEline at 512.267.SAFE (7233) or text 737.888.7233. To learn more or to donate, visit safeaustin.org.
Often, human- and sex-trafficking victims live their lives in the shadows, but many also live and work in our communities. Though victims may be hidden in plain sight and blend in with the rest of the population, the U.S. Department of State offers several indicators that may help you identify these trafficking victims. If you spot any of these red flags, report concerns to authorities:
• an individual who lives with his or her employer
• an individual who seems to have the inability to speak or lack of interest in speaking to another individual alone
• an individual whose answers to basic questions seem rehearsed or scripted
• an individual whose employer keeps his or her identity documents
• an individual who shows signs of physical abuse
• an individual who is submissive or fearful