On Tuesday September 24, at 6:30 PM Mayor Annise Parker, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, and many other officials presented the launch of a public awareness campaign on Human Trafficking. The event was broadcast to 8 satellite viewing points where local leaders gathered at 6:00 and herd presentations on the topic from the perspective of their respective communities.
One viewing location was the Mexican Consulate of Houston. The press and local leaders were invited to gather in the second floor conference room to hear presentations in Spanish from officials of different levels of the US and Mexican governments speaking on the extent of the problem, stepped up efforts at enforcement, and ways citizens can help by reporting cases of possible victims.
Assistant US Attorney Ruben Perez, chief of the Human Rights/Human Trafficking unit of the US Department of Justice, Southern District of Texas, spoke of the growing awareness of the problem, and of instances where victims of human trafficking later became victims of the criminal justice system. New laws and programs now address this problem so that victims can be identified, assisted, and restored to freedom and dignity.
An HPD Officer spoke briefly on the many faces of human trafficking. Victims are often children, but they may be young prostitutes on street corners, or employees in local stores.
The Consul General gave former welcome and thanks and expressed the full support of his office for the Shine a Light public education effort.
Generally, the speakers at City Hall and at the Consul explained that victims of human trafficking may be of any age, race, sex, or national origin, and the problem occurs in many regions. Even so, Houston has become a hub of the human trafficking trade in part because it is an international city with travelers of all nations entering and leaving at airports, the seaport, and by land. Many, but not all, victims are from foreign countries with no family ties here and little or no ability to speak English, making it difficult to obtain help. For example, one of the presentations at City Hall was the testimony of a Spanish-speaking Nanny who shared stories she learned from others working in forced conditions here in Houston.
Some estimate that for every victim of human trafficking who is rescued, there may be as many as 200 more who are not. For this reason, law enforcement officials and social service workers cannot make progress without assistance of information from the public about suspicious situations.