Investigating human trafficking during the COVID-19 pandemic

In an already challenging line of work, the COVID-19 pandemic has made combating human trafficking harder

"It's taken things to a whole other level," said Major John Wall with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. He oversees the Special Investigations Unit -- looking into crimes occurring at places with alcohol permits including human trafficking.

Wall says the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns did not stop human traffickers.

"It's a money-making business. Drug trafficking is the number one criminal enterprise. Human trafficking being number two, they're going to continue their activities," he added. "If a location is obviously closed down, they're just going to take that activity to another location or to another form."

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Other forms that push the crime further underground and online.

Although, Wall says, since Texas has restricted capacity at places like bars but stayed away from complete shutdowns -- criminals are coming here.

"What we're starting to see is the fact that in other states, bars and restaurants closed down. So, there is an upward trend of traffickers bringing victims to Texas," he noted.

And, that's for both sex and labor trafficking.

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"Texas ranks number two in the number of labor trafficking cases [in the U.S.]," Wall told FOX 26.

He also believes recruitment of victims is at an all-time high, particularly with children and teenagers spending more time on social media platforms.

"They're more susceptible to getting recruited by a trafficker now more than ever," Wall said. 

Wall says intelligence gathering is key in stopping human trafficking, and that's where the public plays a major role.

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"They can report anonymously. If they see the activity, they can describe what they are seeing. If it involves vehicles, they can get the license plate numbers," he explained. "[The community are] the eyes and ears of the community and if they see something and report that, they can make a significant contribution in fighting human trafficking."

You can use the TABC Mobile App to report human trafficking. You can also contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.