“If it can end for one, it can end for all.”

Kathy Givens, a Houston-based nonprofit founder and survivor of human trafficking, shared this message with attendees at the relaunch of the “Can You See Me?” human trafficking awareness campaign Jan. 26.

The campaign, which first launched in Texas in 2019, spreads awareness about the various types of human trafficking, educates Texans about the signs of trafficking and encourages people to report suspicious activity.

Approximately 300 billboards will be displayed in over 70 Texas cities with information about the campaign and hotlines to call to report possible human trafficking. From 2019-20, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reported a 30% increase in calls from Texas, resulting in the rescue of over 1,600 victims, according to Bill Clark, A21’s chief advancement officer. A21, which created the worldwide “Can You See Me?” campaign, is a Fort Worth-based nonprofit that aims to abolish slavery and human trafficking.

Texas first lady Cecilia Abbott led the campaign’s relaunch at the Texas Governor’s Mansion, where she was joined by various state officials and anti-human trafficking advocates.

“[Human trafficking] victims are made to believe they are complicit in their own abuse,” Abbott said. “But these victims are not invisible if we learn to look for the signs, and if we learn how to report suspected abuse, exploitation and trafficking.”

What is human trafficking?

There are many types of human trafficking, including child labor, child sexual exploitation, online child sexual exploitation, sex trafficking, domestic servitude and more.

According to A21, someone may be a victim of trafficking if they are controlled by another person and are not allowed to move or travel freely. A lack of money, physical identification or personal possessions is another sign, especially if someone else holds onto their money or legal documents.

Signs of abuse, malnutrition and a lack of medical care can also indicate human trafficking. Some victims of trafficking may be dependent on their abuser or fearful and distrusting of other people. A list of signs and other information about human trafficking is available on A21’s website.

Throughout the world, there are approximately 40.3 million people enslaved in various forms of human trafficking. More people are enslaved today than at any other time in history, A21 reported.

About 71% of these victims are female, and 29% are male. Overall, 25% of human trafficking victims are children.

How can you report human trafficking?

Texans can reach the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888; by texting 233733; or through online reports, chats and emails. Since it was established in 2007, the hotline has received over 399,000 communications, including reports, requests for assistance and more, according to its website.

As a result, the hotline has identified 82,301 human trafficking cases involving 164,839 victims.

The governor’s office also encourages Texans to contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 800-843-5678. In 2021, 3,800 children were reported missing to the NCMEC in Texas alone, the organization’s website said.

On Feb. 20, Texans can purchase new license plates to raise awareness about human trafficking. According to a news release, proceeds will go to the Stop Human Trafficking donation program, which is led by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The program pays for treatment, shelter and other support for young survivors of human trafficking.

Texans can also report potential human trafficking and other suspicious activity through the Texas Department of Public Safety’s iWatchTexas system.

Overcoming human trafficking

Secretary of State Jane Nelson also spoke at the event. A former Flower Mound senator, Nelson served in the Texas Legislature for 30 years and passed multiple bills to prevent human trafficking.

“I want to send a message to all survivors of human trafficking who have spoken out about their experience,” Nelson said. “Thank you. Thank you for telling your story. We hear you, and we see you. Your courage to come forward has encouraged so many others to tell [their stories].”

Givens shared her story with attendees. According to her website, Givens became a victim of human trafficking at 21 years old. She was trafficked for months by a man who acted as her boyfriend.

Givens said that while it was happening, she had no idea she was experiencing human trafficking.

“I had no idea what that was; many individuals that are experiencing it today have no idea what that is,” she said. “We’re in a really bad situation, and we're stuck, and we can't get out, so we depend on the community to hear us, even when our mouths are closed—can you see us? Can you see me?”

Givens said some of the people who exploited and abused her were meant to protect and serve their communities.

“Some of them were clergy; some of them were law enforcement; some of them were military,” Givens said. “Some of them were people that when I was growing up, I was taught to depend on those people and trust them.”

Givens is now the co-founder of Twelve 11 Partners, a nonprofit that supports people who are overcoming human trafficking and fosters education about the issue.

“I stand here today as an overcomer of human trafficking and I do not take this moment for granted, because I know that [in] my journey out, I had to pass many individuals that are still experiencing this crime,” Givens said. “Overcoming for me is not a destination—overcoming is a daily process because we have to choose as overcomers; we have to process as overcomers daily, how to end and get rid of the pain, thoughts and hurt that we endured.”

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, also spoke at the campaign event. Huffman led the passage of anti-human trafficking legislation in Texas beginning in 2009 and has worked with various state agencies to establish and expand the state’s efforts to identify and protect victims of the crime.

As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Huffman filed the 1,033-page budget, Senate Bill 1, on Jan. 18. The initial budget includes $57.5 million for anti-human trafficking efforts, including victims services, mental health treatment for survivors and law enforcement training, Huffman said.

“I ask all Texans to join us in this fight,” Abbott said. “When we recognize the signs of trafficking and when we report suspected trafficking activity, we can change the lives of our fellow Texans. I have no doubt that in joining together, we can help end this inhumanity.”