WACO, Texas – Texas has been one of the hotbeds for human trafficking in the United States in recent years. The number of these crimes reported has gone up in the last few years as well, thanks in no small part to advances in technology.
Predators can lure young people into human trafficking just by using their phones. Traffickers make fake social media accounts and strike up relationships with children and young adults to build a sense of trust.
More recently, traffickers are beginning to hack the phones of other people, calling from a familiar area code or phone number to reel in potential victims.
The key for predators, experts say, is honing in on their victim’s vulnerability.
“Traffickers look for a person’s vulnerability,” says UnBound Waco Global Director Susan Peters. “That vulnerability could be a young person who, their parents are incarcerated, have drug abuse or just an unstable home environment. That makes that young person very vulnerable to someone coming and befriending, meeting needs for shelter, food or friendship.”
UnBound Waco is a branch of the Antioch Church, and is an international organization focused on educating people and groups about human trafficking.
Since the organization started in 2012, they claim they have seen an increase in these crimes being reported every year. Rather than seeing it as a more dangerous hunting ground, they believe people are now better equipped to report the crimes.
UnBound Waco believes the kind of education they provide contributes to this rise in crimes being reported.
“We want to stop human trafficking from happening. And so, we hope we can continue to educate young people on how to stay safe and be in schools and really keep this from happening,” Peters says.
Texas ranked second among the the 50 states in 2018 in terms of most human trafficking crimes reported. Peters believes this is due to the sophisticated highway system and multiple ports in Texas as well as the enormity of the state itself.
Texas is, however, being proactive.
“I really believe trafficking is happening everywhere, but I think our state is doing something about it,” says UnBound Waco Director of Training Jessica Sykora. “We are raising awareness. We are teaching people what to look for. And so, because of that we are seeing it. But we’re seeing it because we are looking for it. So I see that as a good thing.”
You can find out more about Unbound Waco’s work and their tips for keeping children safe at their website.