I’m on my way to Dallas on Interstate 35 and while driving I’ve been thinking about the importance that this corridor has when it comes to human trafficking. Every person I’ve interviewed says the I-35 corridor is a crucial part of the human trafficking story.
So why isn’t the story of human trafficking displayed all over Interstate 35?
As I approach Waco, I do see a billboard that reads “Not in my city. Prevent human trafficking.” But that’s it. I don’t see anything else.
In Dallas, an advocacy think-tank called Children at Risk put together a guided tour of sorts. In the group there are reporters, teachers, police officers, doctors, lawyers and other service providers. Our guides take us to places where children and adults are being sold for sex.
Dixie Hairston with Children at Risk is our guide. “We are going to be headed to about seven different locations tonight and they all have a little bit of a different story,” she says to the group.
We stop at pretty conventional places at first – a motel where two run-away girls were rescued just a few months ago, a massage parlor.
Next, we head to a recording studio. Here a DJ hosted a radio show and forced his victims to co-host with him.
“It was called ‘Cheap Hoes Gotta Go’ and he did on-air interviews with what he called whores and pimps,” Hairston says.
The studio was connected to a massage parlor where, after appearing on the show, the DJ’s victims were sold.
Rebecca Jowers runs a nonprofit called the Poiema Foundation, it’s a safe place for girls. Jowers says – as hard as it is to believe – there are boys and girls sitting in classrooms every day in schools across Texas who are being trafficked.
Their pimps keep them in school – to prevent raising suspicions – and even make them carry their student IDs wherever they go, that way they can ride public transit for free.
“I think part of the problem is people don’t know there is a problem,” Jowers says. “That’s the biggest thing. I do a lot of speaking and training and people are shocked, they have no idea it’s going on, and it’s because they don’t know what to look for – you know? The signs are everywhere.”
A child who sleeps through class may be exhausted after working all night, she says. A child who spaces out may be using that as an escape mechanism. A rowdy child may be screaming for help.
Jowers says once you know, you can’t turn a blind eye to shady businesses like that radio show, you can’t ignore that bruised child or the one with cigarette burns or the one with tattoos. Every single one needs someone to talk to. If you were to listen, she says, you may find that some of these kids are victims of the sex trafficking industry, and they are hiding in plain sight along the I-35 corridor.
If you, or someone you know is a victim of sex trafficking please contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center or your local law enforcement.