Human Trafficking: A Modern Day Slavery

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011 - 10:12am

HIDALGO COUNTY - Many acts of crime and violence can be easy to identify, but there are some crimes that happen in plain sight and even the most trained eye's have trouble identifying them. One of these such crimes is human trafficking and it affects 17,500 people in the U.S. every year. Human trafficking is modern day slavery.

"Human trafficking can be branched out into two different things there's the foreign and domestic. Foreign victims are victims who have been brought into the country but they are not U.S. citizens, so in some way shape or form they are being victimized in the U.S. And then there's the domestic victims, they are U.S. citizens that are being victimized by U.S. citizens," said Beatriz Alaniz, Crisis Counselor Specialist.

Victims are trafficked for a wide variety of purposes, such as commercial sex, agricultural work and housekeeping. The main two types of trafficking are sexual trafficking and labor trafficking.

But the victims can be convinced to commit these acts for a variety of reasons. 

 "People that are being brought over for two purposes; under coercion, under deception, under force," said Ruben Villescas, Pharr Police Department Chief.  

In Texas, since 2001, there have been 554 human trafficking investigations. But only 29 people were actually convicted of a human trafficking related crime. Partly because it is extremely hard to get victims to testify and stand against their oppressors.

"I believe that the victim of human trafficking might not even realize that they are being victimized, because of their up bringing, especially of their age," said Chief Villescas.

One recent case happening just over a year ago in Mission.

"We found out these victims were trafficked, and they were promised to be paid $700, as the trafficker recruited them from Honduras, and they were promised a better life in," said Robert Garcia, Child Advocacy Center Executive Director.

The owner of El Paraiso Night Club was convicted on three counts of sex trafficking and conspiracy. One of the girls was 17 years old and the other two were just 14 years old.

"Law enforcement is keen and does understand that people are falling victim to this type of crime. And it's a clandestine crime that many times go undetected," said Chief Villescas.

The U.S. State Department said in a recent report that the number of victims identified reflects only .4 % of the victims in existence.

This means there are still a lot of victims out there that Texas Law Enforcement Agencies are still unable to identify. And local police forces realize that they are only beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to locating these victims.

"The numbers that we are seeing is uh, it's not accurate, we don't have true, true numbers," said Chief Villescas.

Reports show that many times victims are not identified as victims, especially when they are caught committing some kind of illegal activity. Many times police treat them as suspects. Pharr Police and La Joya Police said this happens a lot when these victims are caught being smuggled.

"If we are talking about an undocumented person that has been smuggled, already there's this barrier that the law enforcement agencies or law enforcement authorities are here to hurt us," said Chief Villescas.

The Child Advocacy Center Executive Director said it can be hard to get the victims to open up, because many are afraid of one result.

"The number one fear of victims coming forward, to be quite frank with you, is it would be the fear of deportation," said Garcia.

In the end, victims face a lot fears and finding these victims services to make them feel safe is the goal of local law enforcement and other area agencies.  This clandestine crime affects men, women, children and adults. If you have any information on human trafficking you can call the Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888 or visit their website at www.traffickingresourcecenter.org

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