September 18th, 2012 at 10:03 am
HOUSTON – For residents in the Zip Codes served by Houston Mission Centers, sex and labor trafficking isn’t something that happens on the other side of the world; they’re atrocities that are taking advantage of their family members, friends and neighbors.
In a survey done earlier this year by the mission centers of about 180 people they serve, 16 percent of respondents knew people who were victims of labor trafficking. More than six percent of survey participants reported being victims of trafficking.
Another five percent indicated they knew someone who had been forced into the sex trade. Some of the victims they knew were minors.
“This does take place in our cities,” said Kate Ambrose, who conducted the survey. “This is not just an issue we read about on CNN. This is affecting people in our communities.”
Ambrose said the statistics are only a small indication of the severity of the trafficking issue in the five Zip Codes served by the mission centers. People were reluctant to discuss their knowledge of Houston-area trafficking. Some who would not confirm knowing people who were being taken advantage of gave Ambrose subtle signs they knew more than they were admitting.
People served by the mission centers often are vulnerable to be victims of trafficking because they already are in difficult situations, Ambrose noted. Unscrupulous employers can promise them money for work, then not pay them and threaten to report them as undocumented immigrants. Young women are lured into sex trafficking with the promise of a better life.
Ambrose is developing a plan for mission centers to prevent trafficking in their communities. She’s already started educating area churches and connecting with other anti-trafficking organizations and law enforcement. More than 10 Christian groups are participating in a supply drive for an area safe house for trafficking victims.
The mission centers also are selling Christmas cards, the proceeds from which support the centers’ local anti-trafficking efforts. The centers are seeking to construct a program that reaches young people before they are approached by traffickers.
Connecting with children early is key in preventing trafficking, said Ginger Smith, executive director of the mission centers. To help that, the mission centers are seeking to help neighbors help themselves.
“We also want to empower our communities to be advocates for their communities,” she said. “They’re the eyes and ears in their neighborhoods. They know what happens behind closed doors.”
Tackling an issue as large as trafficking requires people – inside and outside communities – working together for the betterment of all, Smith said.
“We should all be alarmed by this,” she said. “We should all find something to do about this.”
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