Did you know there are more than 400,000 slaves living in America today? That’s why National Human Trafficking Awareness Month is important.

Contrary to popular belief, slavery is not an atrocity of the past, and it isn’t limited to third-world countries and far away places. Slavery is a thriving, multi-billion dollar criminal industry that plagues the United States and many other nations. There are an astonishing 403,000-estimated slaves living in America. Their perils aren’t as obvious as poverty or hunger. But this affront to basic human decency is actually happening in plain sight and in places you’d least expect.

The definition of slavery is any physical exploitation through force, fraud or coercion. Human trafficking comes in many forms. These include creating child soldiers, forcing workers to be confined to sweatshops as well as imposing servitude and even prostitution. Today, there are predominately two forms of slavery in the United States which are considered human trafficking: forced labor and sex trafficking.

Houston is a beautifully vibrant and diverse city. It is also unfortunately the nation’s number two sex-trafficking state according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Last year, there were 3,718 reported cases of sex trafficking in Houston. However, that number is likely higher because many incidents go unreported. Houston has close proximity to the Mexican border, easy access to international ports and expansive highway systems. It also hosts multiple large events like Offshore Technology Conference and Rodeo Houston. This makes the Bayou City a primary hub for those involved in this heinous crime to ship victims both in and out of the U.S.

Although the issue is more prevalent in large cities like Houston, there are recent reports of incidents in all 50 states. “Forbes” reported that domestic sex trafficking is rising. The estimated annual profit for forced sexual servitude was $100,000 per woman and $207,000 per child. Child sex slavery is illegal throughout our nation yet there are 25 states that still prosecute “child prostitution” as a crime against the victims. Despite these statistics, it is disturbingly more likely that a victim will be arrested for selling sex than a buyer will be prosecuted for purchasing sex.

Domestic work and agriculture are the top industries for human trafficking in the U.S., but the travel industry is another leader. Hotels and travel infrastructure provide venues and transportation that aid traffickers.

In 2004, End Child Prostitution and Trafficking launched the Tourism Child Protection Code of Conduct to better educate the industry on best practices to prevent human trafficking. The guidelines can be voluntarily adopted by any organization. It teaches employees how to look for warning signs and train them to take the necessary actions to stop these atrocious crimes. The 320 member organizations, including Hilton Worldwide and Globetrotter Travel Service, have trained more than 500,000 employees in 144 countries.

Thompson & Co. Public Relations, supports many clients in the travel and tourism industries and has an office in the nation’s second largest human trafficking hub. T&C strongly believes in the fundamental rights and freedom of every human being. We are proud to support organizations and individuals combating this issue.

T&C Houston’s team often spends “Thirsty Thursdays” at a A 2nd Cup. They are a local coffee shop that’s dedicated to raising awareness of human trafficking issues in Houston. They also work in developing resources that create a second chance for survivors. In addition to donating a portion of profits to Free the Captives, Children at Risk and United Against Human Trafficking, A 2nd Cup guarantees all food products, including their coffee beans, are ethically sourced according to fair trade standards.

Houston-based T&C Vice President Liz Baker and Creative Content Specialist Megan O’Malley are also members of the Junior League of Houston. In recognition of National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, the Association of Junior Leagues International has joined the ABOLISH movement. Local chapters are participating by hosting events like “Searching for Pilar – A Conversation on Human Trafficking.” They are also partnering with the Baylor College of Medicine Human Trafficking Program. The program teaches people the three R’s: recognize, respond and refer.

Although purchasing fair trade coffee, joining the movement and attending meetings won’t stop the abuse, we’re doing our best to help spread the life-saving message – modern-day slavery must stop.

Here are ways you can join us in supporting this cause:

Recognize the victims:

The most common age to enter sex trafficking is between 12 and 14, according to Shared Hope International. Victims of trafficking can be men, women or children. Many are lured by fake or even real marriage proposals, the promise of education or a job. Victims often comply out of fear for their own safety or the safety of their loved ones, who are often threatened by traffickers. Some startling stats:

  • 71 percent of immigrant human trafficking victims entered the U.S. legally.
  • 51 percent are women. (This means 49 percent are men, much more than most people realize.)
  • 20 percent are underage girls.
  • 54 percent of all human trafficking victims are sexually exploited.
  • Many people are victims of sex slavery and also forced labor.
  • Welfare, foster care, homeless and LGBT youth are more likely to run away and therefore are at a higher risk of being targeted for sex trafficking.

Identify warning signs:

There are red flags that may alert you that a child or adult you encounter is a victim of human trafficking. Look for these signs and report them:

  • Physical abuse like bruising or burns
  • Poor physical and dental health
  • Multiple cell phones
  • Tattoos, especially those related to money, ownership or gang symbols
  • Large amounts of cash
  • Multiple hotel room keys
  • Multiple forms of identification or passports
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Children traveling or checking into a hotel room with an older man he/she seemingly doesn’t know
  • Olden men traveling or checking into a hotel with a child or younger woman whose identification or passport is from another state or country.

There are signs to identify a trafficker.

Get involved:

There are many ways to combat human trafficking:

Get help:

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call the 24-hour, confidential National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

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