LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The Texas Department of Transportation says it’s “on the road to end human trafficking." This week, TxDOT announced its new initiative, which seeks to raise awareness of human trafficking in Texas.
“The goal of the whole initiative is to educate not just the traveling public but our own employees to the red flags and the signs of human trafficking that go on every day,” said Rhonda Oaks, a TxDOT spokeswoman.
Research from the University of Texas shows that more than 300,000 people are trafficked in Texas at any given time, being abused and forced into hard labor or prostitution. Seventy-nine thousand of these are young victims. Oaks said traffickers are most likely to find victims in large, crowded places.
“Big parking lots, entertainment venues, travel venues, so mainly where there’s crowds of people," Oaks said. "Just keep an eye on what’s going on around you.”
TxDOT isn’t the only one trying to bring light to the issue. Texas Department of Public Safety troopers have been trained in interdiction for protection of children since 2009, focusing on helping children exploited by traffickers.
“Since the inception of the program, I think we’ve recovered over 300 individuals that were actually being exploited, and that’s due to the training that we receive periodically,” said Trooper David Hendry, a DPS spokesman,
Both TxDOT and DPS say victims can be anyone, and that it’s important to watch for nonverbal clues. DPS officers also say victims don’t always alert others to their situation, so they have pay close attention to each traveler they meet.
“Whether they’re adult, women, men, or whether they’re children – watch their actions, watch their speech, watch their looks on their faces," Oaks said. "They may be reaching out for help, and you’ll not realize it, but you’ve got to be aware before you ever see anything.”
More information on spotting human trafficking and how to report it can be found on TxDOT’s website.