According to the FBI human trafficking, and specifically sex trafficking, is a huge problem throughout the country and right here in our community as well.
January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month and on Wednesday leaders from three El Paso organizations announced a new joint effort aimed at helping survivors of human trafficking and slavery.
“You never know who you are standing next to, or who you are sitting with who might have survived such a horrible experience,” said Cathy Gaytan, executive director of El Paso Child Guidance Center.
The official numbers from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center show since 2007 there have been 2,157 reported human trafficking cases in Texas alone.
But those numbers might only be telling half the story.
“I don’t think we know and that is the part that is so frightening. I don’t think we know how large the human trafficking problem is here. We know it is here, we know it is in effect. But it is so underground it’s hard to decide how large it is,” explained Brian Kennedy, a board member for Big Brothers Big Sisters of El Paso.
Those two groups, along with Paso Del Norte Center for Hope, are trying to shed light on the problem.
“It really helps with a synergy you could never have with a single organization,” said Kennedy.
The goal is to mentor and support victims of trafficking.
“No longer can we avert our eyes to a teen or a young child who looks like something might be going on,” said Gaytan.
Officials said in order to recognize the problem, first you have to understand all human trafficking encompasses
“Opening people’s eyes in the community, letting them know that human trafficking is not what we customarily think of it,” said Marco Cordero, Assistant Special Agent in charge of the Criminal Branch of the FBI.
He said people don’t typically think of sex slavery when they think of human trafficking. Cordero said the majority of cases involve involuntary prostitution, often times with minors.
“What we want to do is taking care of their needs and make sure they start the healing process and they can start to live a normal and productive life,” said Cordero.
For more information you can contact any of the groups.
El Paso Child Guidance Center (915) 562-1999. Big Brothers Big Sisters of El Paso (915) 544-4203. Paso Del Norte Center of Hope (915) 565-8361.