AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new University of Texas at Austin study is shedding light and providing actual empirical data on the extent of human trafficking in Texas and its far-reaching effects. The study by the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (IDVSA) at The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work states there are more than 300,000 victims of human trafficking in Texas, including almost 79,000 minors and youth victims of sex trafficking and nearly 234,000 adult victims of labor trafficking.
While existing data sets on human trafficking were helpful, the researchers in UT’s study, which was started in 2014, determined those existing data sets only shed light on a fraction of the problem because it didn’t include the “hidden population that is historically hard to reach.” To incorporate the “hidden population” into their study, researchers looked at risk indicators found in documented trafficking cases and use that information to define groups of people that are considered to be at higher-than-average risk of trafficking.
For minor and youth sex trafficking, the study focused on children in the foster care system, those who have experience abuse, and the homeless. To get the number that nearly 79,000 minors are victims of sex trafficking, the study used federal and state data indicating 290,000 minors were subjected to child abuse, another 24,000 are at-risk youth being served by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and approximately 1,400 are homeless. The study applied a 25 percent victimization rate developed from the Agency Survey to estimate the number of victims in those community segments.
“This is our first glimpse into the scope and impact of human trafficking in Texas. Few states have this kind of insight into the number of people being exploited,” said IDVSA director Noël Busch-Armendariz, who led the study. “And more importantly, each count reflects a human being living among us in slavery-like conditions. Our findings certainly give us all a call to action.”
Researchers also established benchmarks on the economic impact of human trafficking. The study states an estimated $6.5 billion is spent on the lifetime costs of providing care to victims and survivors of minor and youth sex trafficking in Texas.
The study concluded that labor trafficking is a significant issue for the State of Texas. The study states traffickers exploit approximately $600 million per year from victims of labor trafficking in Texas. The industries that see the most labor trafficking are: migrant farm work, construction, kitchen workers in restaurant and landscaping services.
A Human Trafficking Victim’s take on the numbers
“To me it is surprising. It’s surprisingly low because for me, that’s just based on reported incidents, and so often, more often than not, [incidents] aren’t reported for various reasons,” Allison Franklin, a survivor of human trafficking says.
Franklin’s vulnerability began when she was sexually abused as a toddler. Then she fell into a spiral of addiction and was mainly trafficked in the Houston area. She says at any given time she was taken across the country, state and even here to Austin.
“Really my drug addiction is what tied me to the underworld of violence crime gangs, prison and then of course human trafficking,” Franklin says. “I actually was originally kidnapped by a certain gang members and in reality my real trafficker pretended to rescue me from them and so he actually went through a romancing period. And I became attached to him.”
The UT study found that there are certain populations that are most at risk for human trafficking, but Franklin wants to stress, as long as there’s a vulnerability in a victim’s home life, it can happen to anyone.
“It can happen to anyone and that’s the myth is that it’s based on socio or economical boundaries and really anyone can be a victim of human trafficking,” Franklin said. “I came from a great family, outside of the child abuse, I have a family that loves me, I went to college, I graduated high school, I did all those right things. but underneath all that I was hurting.”
Franklin hopes these numbers will show lawmakers the need for more services.
“Long-term services are really, really necessary for a woman [or men] to really recover,” Franklin says. “Long-term services only last so long due to funding and I think that’s really important, the issue is being able to get state funding at a level that can really carry these women further on.”
Combatting Human Trafficking and Helping Victims
Earlier this month, Texas leaders announced a new initiative to fight human trafficking. Attorney General Ken Paxton said his office is a releasing a new training video for state employees that integrates media coverage, experts and survivors to train them with knowledge to help save victims. “Truckers against Trafficking” will also be an ongoing effort to help get more eyes in the community to watch for victims and traffickers.
In the Austin-area, The Refuge Ranch is working to build a space where they can house and provide care for young girls who are victims of sex trafficking. The 50-acre ranch, which is currently under construction in Bastrop County, will offer long-term assistance to girls ages 11 to 17.
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.