HOUSTON - “What we're seeing is the more we look, the more we find,” warns Sergeant John Wall with the Houston Police Department.
At any given time, there’s about 313,000 victims of human trafficking in Texas. Adults and children exploited for sex and labor over and over again.
“Last year we had over 300 active investigations,” added Wall.
Wall leads the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance of the Southern District of Texas made up of nearly two dozen federal, state, and local law enforcement and non-profit agencies.
He says half of their cases involve minors between 14 and 17-years-old sold for sex.
“They’re our children. They’re not children coming from other countries,” added Wall.
Then, there’s labor trafficking.
“It's out there and it's probably occurring just as much sex trafficking,” explained Wall. He says it is harder to identify cases because the victims do not come forward and are, often, foreign-born.
Across the state, about 234,000 are adults are exploited for work. Wall and others in the Houston area are hoping to identify more cases of labor trafficking.
“It's easy for folks to talk about sex trafficking because it's like, ‘That's not in my neighborhood. I’m not partaking in that activity.’ But labor trafficking, we all at some level have potentially participated in it,” said Timeka Walker, Executive Director of United Against Human Trafficking.
For the past 12 years, the organization has lead a 70-member coalition of local groups in the fight against human trafficking.
Traffickers exploit an estimated 600 million dollars from labor trafficking victims in Texas.
“It's happening in our restaurants. It's happening in our homes; folks who are victims of domestic servitude,” Walker added.
Others include landscaping, farm, construction, and nail salon workers.
Last year, the organization identified almost 30 cases of labor trafficking in our area.
“The trauma that's inflicted on the brain of trafficking victim is akin to combat,” explained Tyler Dunman, former Montgomery County prosecutor.
Trauma, suffering, and resilience that has names and faces, like Jamie Lynn Gibson.
“I've had I don't know how many pimps,” Gibson said in tears.
Nearly 16 years ago, Gibson became entrapped by her first pimp. Now, she’s attending a class hosted by Harris County Precinct 1 Constable’s Office to help victims of sex trafficking get out of the life. Gibson attributes the major milestones in her recovery to the class instructor, Kathy Griffin Griñan.
Survivors like her say as long as there’s a buyer, traffickers will actively look for someone to exploit. Advocates hope awareness can change that.
“We want to expand our outreach into other counties that touch Harris county and give them the skills and the knowledge of what we're doing. And, then take that throughout the State. That's our ultimate goal,” Wall told FOX 26.
“My hope and my prayer is that when folks hear about the atrocities that happen every day in our city, that they will stand up and stand out and do something about it,” Walker concluded.
If you or someone you know may be a victim of human trafficking, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.