Pete’s Periódico: Raising awareness of human trafficking

Happy New Year, Senate District 19. I hope you enjoyed your holidays; between field redistricting committee hearings, interim charges, other committee meetings, constant town halls and events across the district, this year is sure to be a busy one.

During this month of January, the state of Texas is trying to raise awareness of a sad but ever-present issue: human trafficking and child exploitation. Governor Greg Abbott proclaimed January 11, 2020 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day and the entire month as Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

At any given time, our state has approximately 234,000 victims of labor trafficking, with another 79,000 children who were in the sex trade, according to the Texas attorney general’s office. These are staggering numbers, and as Texans we refuse to stand idly by.

In addition to the Human Trafficking and Transnational/Organized Crime section of the attorney general, I supported legislation creating the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force in the governor’s office. This task force, composed of individuals from state agencies, trade associations, medical staff, law enforcement and more, will serve as a place of ideas, future policy and coordination for all forms of sexual assault and abuse. Additionally, the Texas secretary of state established Texas Businesses Against Trafficking, a network of businesses committed to working together to combating human trafficking.

All these divisions and more focus daily on freeing men, women and children from modern day slavery. In an effort to raise awareness of this issue, billboards across the state of Texas appeared towards the end of last year featuring a trafficking victim and the simple message: “Can you see me?”

Advocates against human trafficking believe that victims are often in plain sight. Clues associated with human trafficking victims include: being controlled (verbally, financially, transportation, etc.) by another person; signs of physical or substance abuse; overt lack of trust; a lack of official identification or few personal belongings; bad health or malnutrition.

The billboards, displayed in English and Spanish, urge the public to report possible instances of human trafficking to the Polaris National Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888 (or text at 233-733) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at (800) 843-5678.

In my work as a Texas game warden, I relied on the community in which I was serving to help enforce the law and preserve public safety. The same is true for human trafficking. Our law enforcement in Texas relies on us to be on the lookout, reporting suspicious activity. Please take a minute to save these numbers in your phone. Join me and millions of other Texans in the fight to end human trafficking.

This week, I will be traveling across the western part of Senate District 19, hosting town halls and attending events in Ozona, Ft. Stockton, Pecos, Alpine and Marathon. I look forward to seeing many of you out there –– visiting with constituents is one of the best parts of my job as a Texas senator. As always, feel free to call my Capitol office or district office near you with any questions or comments.

Sen. Pete Flores is a Republican Texas senator representing Senate District 19.

To contact Sen. Flores, call his Capitol office at (512) 463-0119 or send an email to [email protected]. For daily updates, follow him on Facebook: /SenatorPeteFlores and on Twitter: @PeteFlores_TX.