LUBBOCK, TX - Human trafficking has become a growing issue across the country, including here in Lubbock County. As a result, local support groups are teaming up to raise awareness on the issue and fundraise for outreach and healing services.
Studies show that the average age of children forced into the sex industry is around 12. Two-thirds of those victims are female. An approximate 25 percent of the estimated 300,000 American children lured into sex trafficking each year live in Texas.
While sex trafficking is more common among young females, experts say traffickers and buyers prey on victims of all ages and all genders.
“In Lubbock we’re seeing this as a very common issue,” said Jaime Wheeler, a sex trafficking outreach worker for the Voice of Hope, a Lubbock nonprofit that aims at providing healing and support for victims of human trafficking. “Even in the last several months we’ve seen a rise in people and we're seeing the age doesn’t really matter. We see victims as young as 13, 14, even their forties.”
Wheeler shares that one of the biggest issues victims face is accepting that they are truly a victim to begin with.
“I’ve had several people say it took them several years to realize that they're truly a victim because of the psychological manipulation going on from traffickers who make them feel and think that they chose to be there that's what they're good at."
It may be difficult to distinguish a victim of sex trafficking from any other person in a crowd, however Wheeler says there are quite a few signs to watch out for.
“A lot of the time we'll see a kid who was very good in school. He was active and all of a sudden he's not doing the same thing they used to. They're not going to theater club, they're not going to school projects they're not hanging out with the same group of friends. Maybe they start hanging out with people who are older than them. That's a big red flag for us.”
One other local nonprofit is also taking a fight against human trafficking here in the South Plains. One Vo!ce Home, however is specifically geared to helping under aged girls who have become victims to sex crimes and human trafficking.
“Every young girl should be playing on swings, playing on slides, playing with dolls. Not living under a shadow or umbrella of fear to make the decisions they know they do not want to be making,” said Gloria Toti, the Board Director of One Vo!ce Home.
“They need a home, they need a safe place for restoration,” adds Terisa Clark, also on the board of directors for One Vo!ce Home.
The two have been busy applying for grants and fundraising for their nonprofit to continue raising awareness for the epidemic and plan to open a home on a West Texas ranch to young girls in the area who have been victims of sex trafficking. It is expected to open by the end of this year.
In June One Vo!ce Home will help host the fifth annual "Running2Rescue," a run open to the entire community aimed at helping raise awareness for the young girls who have become victims of sex trafficking and other sex crimes. Interested in participating? Find how to here: http://www.running2rescue.com/index.html
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