Opportunity is what they sought. Slavery is what they found. Those two short statements sum up the often long stories detailing what happens to most victims of human trafficking, said Maria Trujillo, executive director at Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition.
For nearly a decade, Houston-based nonprofit HRRC has gathered law enforcement, social workers, health care providers, faith organizations, government agencies, nonprofit leaders and volunteers in Houston to provide education, prevention and empowerment aimed against human trafficking. The organization has trained more than 26,000 individuals to spot potential victims and to understand particular issues of forced labor and forced sex.
"It really is going to take the community coming together to end modern-day slavery," Trujillo said.
It is difficult to spot human trafficking victims because emotional signs, such as depression, can sometimes be the only cues, Trujillo said. Victims can also have such an attachment to their trafficker that they do not realize they are being abused, she said.
"Modern-day slavery is not the same," Trujillo said. "The kind of chains that we see today are psychological chains."
Stephanie Weber and Gayle Christie founded HRRC in 2005 in direct response to news reports covering the Mondragon case, Trujillo said. The Mondragon case unfolded before public eye in 2005 when more than 100 federal, state and local law enforcers busted a Houston-based sex trafficking ring led by Maximino "El Chimino" Mondragon.
"It was really a wake-up call for the people in Houston who started this organization," Trujillo said.
HRRC founders wanted to bring awareness to human trafficking through a more unified approach, Trujillo said.
The organization decided to admit 15 to 20 applicants as coalition members annually. Members make an annual commitment to participate in the coalition and its mission.
Fe Y Justicia Work Center is one of 19 existing coalition members. Its executive director, Laura Perez-Boston, said HRRC plays a significant role in bringing together organizations doing the multifaceted work to end human trafficking.
"It's really crucial because, even though the groups have different approaches, we tackle the same issue and see the broader picture," she said. "It's been really important to have this infrastructure of the coalition."
Perez-Boston said her organization primarily assists low-wage Latin immigrant workers in forced labor situations.
Another current coalition member is YMCA International of Houston. Its Trafficking and Person Assistance Program, directed by Constance Rossiter, provides comprehensive case management to foreign-born and domestic victims of forced labor.
"It's very important work—in fact, everybody needs to be a part of it," Rossiter said.
Houston's local connection
600,000–800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year.
80% of people trafficked across borders are women and girls.
27 million people worldwide are part of some form of slavery.
Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry.
Human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world.
25% of human trafficking victims are in Texas.
Houston: trafficking hub
Houston is known as a major hub for human trafficking because of its close proximity to the border and the number of interstate freeways that run through the area. However, organizations such as Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition work to help victims of human trafficking, which affects hundreds of thousands of people annually in the U.S.
Houston Rescue & Restore Coalition