Activists gathered on the south steps of the Texas Capitol Wednesday morning to pressure lawmakers to keep fighting human trafficking during the 85th Legislative Session.

Advocates say there’s lots of work left to be done to curb trafficking. Now there are hard numbers to show by how much.

A study released Tuesday by the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Social Work estimates there are 313,000 victims of human trafficking in the state.

Noël Busch-Armendariz, the lead researcher and the institute’s director, says the goal of the study was to quantify the prevalence of human trafficking in the state by looking at high-risk groups. The estimate is the first of its kind.

“Quite frankly they’re staggering numbers but they’re conservative at the same time,” she says. “We only took what we are confident are the high-risk numbers – so in that way, they’re conservative.”

Researchers mined existing databases of reported trafficking cases and used that information to define groups of people – like homeless individuals, children or youth in foster care, and migrant workers – that were at a higher risk of trafficking.

A fourth of the estimated victims are minors and young adults under the age of 26 who are involved in sex trafficking. The remaining 234,000 are workers who are victims of labor trafficking.

“We’re talking about men, women and children across the board,” Busch-Armendariz says. “[The number] is staggering because most of us think that we’re somehow an arm’s distance from this. But it’s actually people who are being exploited are living or working right next to us.”

Although the size of Texas certainly contributes to the large number, Busch-Armendariz says that people don’t have to be physically moved to be trafficked.

“I don’t expect that we have a higher percentage of problems comparative to another state like ours, but we’re going to do something about it,” she says.

Written by Molly Smith.

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