Slavery has been abolished for over 150 years, but today, there are more slaves than ever in history –  a problem with which Houstonians should be especially concerned.

Houston is great for so many reasons. We’re a very diverse city in terms of demographics, culture, events, and topography. As far as business is concerned, Houston is a great place to live if you’re in the oil and gas business, and its proximity to ports and the U.S. border make it a wonderful place to live if you’re in any business that involves shipping. But with great power comes great responsibility. What makes Houston great has also made it a hub for illegal activities – most notably, human trafficking.

Look beneath the surface: Some sex worker, including prostitutes and porn stars, are not working voluntarily, but are victims of pimps and johns.

Look beneath the surface: Some sex workers, including prostitutes and porn stars, are not working voluntarily, but are victims of pimps and johns.

When many people think of human trafficking, they think it is something that occurs overseas, in lesser-developed countries where creepy men run around snatching women from streets in unmarked vans. The reality of human trafficking is that it happens in the form of women who befriend younger women and put these young women in situations where they can be sold or forced to perform sexual acts for money. There are victims of human trafficking all around us, but it can be difficult to identify them. Victims can either work in normal jobs or in the sex industry. If they do work in the sex industry they are often drugged, and even more damaging, can seem as if they want to work in the sex industry, such as porn stars and prostitutes. Pimps use tactics like violence, emotional and verbal abuse, or death threats to keep their victims enslaved.

Organizations like The A21 Campaign have had much success in freeing captives, finding their aggressors, and getting those men and women prosecuted. In addition, A21 (Abolishing Injustice in the 21st Century) provides education on how to spot a victim of human trafficking and how to protect yourself from becoming one. A21’s latest piece of education, the Bodies are Not Commodities curriculum, is targeted at high school students. Based in Australia, the curriculum is only available there and Latin America so far. However, a great way to make it available in the United States is to donate, fundraise, and/or shop online to aid A21 in creating a new generation of abolitionists.

How to spot a victim of human trafficking and what to do about it.

How to spot a victim of human trafficking and what to do about it (click to enlarge).

In the meantime, local organizations like Free the Captives and A 2nd Cup engage and mobilize the Houston community while partnering with non-profits, law enforcement, and government agencies in the fight against modern day slavery. A 2nd Cup is a non-profit coffee shop in the Heights that gives its proceeds to abolition initiatives. Located in Spring, Free the Captives is an alternative to A21 to educate yourself and friends in freeing victims of human trafficking right here in our city. In fact, Free the Captives is hosting its 6th annual Houston Human Trafficking Conference at the Houston Food Bank Wednesday, January 20 from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. To register, visit the Free the Captives event page.