NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Human trafficking awareness is the fundraising cause for a 5K-10K run in Nacogdoches tomorrow. It's a mission currently adopted by a wide array of denominations and social service groups.
More Texans are learning the dangers of human trafficking is closer to home than often realized.
Human trafficking is basically making money off the young and poor by placing them in prostitution or forced labor. Human trafficking involves foreign countries, but not always, said Nacogdoches County Prosecutor Andrew Jones.
"We're seeing it in East Texas," Jones said. "We've got a current case right now that involves sex trafficking of a child. While it's not a frequent occurrence here, it does still occur."
A University of Texas study released this year found Texas as the hub for human trafficking in the U.S. There are over 20,000 labor and sex trafficking victims in Houston every year.
The vulnerable become the prey.
"Runaways are the number one group to fall victim to this," Jones said.
The grim facts are important to know. A series of running events called. "Hit the Streets to Stop Human Trafficking" led to a T-shirt and awareness for Nacogdoches Methodist pastor, Dr. Jeff McDonald.
"In all nine of our conferences in Texas in the United Methodist Church we're trying to have a race in each conference or tag onto races like we've done here in Nacogdoches to tag onto the Rotary 5K-10K run," McDonald said. "Our goal as a United Methodist Church in Texas is to raise $250,000 to help in that trafficking that's going on in this area."
Refuge of Light is a benefactor. With a location in Tyler, the non-profit is providing trafficking signals training as early as May 11.
Such awareness is important as it can lead to stiff penalties. The State of Texas recently enacted tougher punishments for the continuous trafficking of children.
"Twenty-five years to life," Jones said. "The minimum is 25 and there is no eligibility for parole, so whoever gets sentenced for that offense is day for day."
Yet victims must deal with their experience a lifetime, something that can be cut short by human trafficking.
The Nacogdoches Rotary 5K-10K Run begins tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. in front of The Fredonia Hotel.