FOX 26 Houston - Houston is one of the largest hubs for human trafficking in the country! That is confirmed by the U-S Department of Justice, after finding more than 200 active brothels here, where women and children are forced to participate. Local experts have found out that 80-percent of victims end up at a hospital sometime during captivity.
Melissa Graham is a nurse in the emergency room at Houston Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center, who is now on a mission to spot those victims, if they're ever treated at the hospital where she works. She has witnessed how devastating human trafficking can be for a victim and their family. "My niece, Samantha, was taking into human trafficking about five years ago, for about six months. The FBI was able to follow her because they traced her cell," Melissa explains. Her niece is still working through the pain of what she went through.
Now Melissa is encouraging everyone in the hospital to be on the look-out for victims and has prompted hospital administrators to get on board. Everyone within the hospital system is about to undergo training. She wants others to be spared the pain her niece had to endure. "I helped found the human trafficking committee. We have almost finished the policy that will provide for all the hospitals - developing education for all of the hospitals on how to recognize human trafficking, and also how to report it and then we want to make sure that not only they get identified but taken care of afterwards. Many don't have homes, money, or even ID's sometimes," says Melissa.
Itoro Inyang is a social worker at the hospital and she's fully on-board the project! "I believe they are going to be identified, because once the word is out, what to expect and what to look for, people will now have that idea to be more sensitive and pay more attention to see if this person is part of a human trafficking ring or possibly they may know someone who is, because they may come in for treatment and find out," says Itoro.
Every person will be trained to help get victims out of trafficking. "Our plan is to train everyone from housekeeping to cafeteria workers. Housekeeping is like an invisible person in the room sometimes. A lot of times they understand other languages. Sometimes they hear things the nurse doesn't hear and can report back. We plan on educating every single person - including the doctors and administration," explains Melissa. Posted signs in the bathrooms will even inform victims that help is available, silently encouraging them to reach out, with phone numbers they can call. Melissa also serves on an anti-trafficking board in the Texas Medical Center, trying to get all hospitals onboard about learning the warning signs of a victim.
We also talked to Dr. Bob Sanborn, the President and CEO of the local advocacy group, Children at Risk about their involvement of trying to put a stop to trafficking. They hold bus tours to bring awareness of the problem. The next one is November 12th at 6:30pm. Cheryl Briggs, who is the Executive Director of the Survivor Leadership Alliance is also speaking out about the importance of victims realizing there is life after the trauma of trafficking. Kathryn Griffin, who is the Director of Human Trafficking at Harris County Precinct One tells us more about where victims can seek help and introduces us to a woman who's life was torn apart by drugs and trafficking.