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What would America look like, if we were a nation without Faith?

Representative Bill Flores (TX-17)

Imagine having all of your freedoms taken away, being forced to work against your will and constantly living under the threat of violence — in short, being forced to live as a slave. Sadly, this situation is a reality for millions of children, women, and men each year as part of the global human trafficking industry.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, it is estimated there are more than 20 million victims of human trafficking worldwide today. As many as 17,500 people are believed to be trafficked as a commodity into the U.S. annually. When you stop and think about these numbers as a whole, it shows that more people are being forced into slavery today than at any time in human history.

Human trafficking victims are lured by traffickers under false promises of jobs and better lives; and then are forced or coerced into prostitution, domestic servitude, or other types of forced labor. Having one person be subjected to this treatment is one person too many, let alone the millions who suffer this treatment each day across the world.

Human trafficking has been documented in almost every state and Texas is no exception. One of the hubs of human trafficking in our state is in Waco, TX. Its central location on I-35 and a large number of runaway minors contribute to the region’s levels of human trafficking. According to a federal grant study, the City of Waco alone encountered 84 cases of human trafficking in 2015, more than triple the number in just a year prior.

Fortunately, our community acted early to proactively deal with this human tragedy in three ways—deterrence, recovery, and education.

With respect to deterrence, our Sheriff’s Department set up effective sting operations to deter the promoters and users of human trafficking victims. In addition, the Sheriff’s trafficking task force deals with trafficked persons as victims, rather than as criminals engaged in prostitution.

Started in 2012, with the help of a local Christian church, one Texas faith-based organization is working to promote the recovery of the victims of human trafficking and to educate our community to identify and prevent trafficking. This organization’s goal is to bring an end to human trafficking in our community. In just three years, law enforcement concluded that human trafficking cases rose dramatically, yet before its inception, many in our community were unware of the problem growing in our backyard. This Texas non-profit, supported by a local Christian church, has brought a bright light to this human rights issue that was largely unknown. The organization focuses on three different areas in combatting human trafficking: prevention, professional training, and survivor advocacy. In total, they have reached over 600 youth, educated over 2,000 community members and trained 609 volunteers and professionals.

Additionally, over 30 other nongovernmental organizations form a Texas human trafficking coalition and come together for quarterly meetings to discuss the progress being made in Central Texas.4 The Coalition recently announced it is one of seven projects nationwide selected for the U.S. Department of Justice grant award of $1.5 million for the development of a human trafficking task force. The funding will allow the Coalition to expand its role, representing five counties and incorporating 50 area agencies on local, state, and federal levels.

Human trafficking exists in Central Texas. It is thriving in a country that prides itself on its human rights record. Without faith-based organizations like those in Waco bringing light to the issue, we cannot take the first step to win this fight – a fight that must be won. We must continue to work to empower faith-based organizations so we can finally put an end to this form of modern day slavery.