Uber, Lyft drivers have helped find and save trafficking victims, LPD says

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LUBBOCK, Texas — It’s called modern day slavery, and it’s been happening here on the South Plains for years.

The Lubbock Police Department calls it a “huge” problem in the city and across West Texas, and its special human trafficking operation handles about 30 to 50 human trafficking cases every year.

The detective who spearheads the operation said trafficking — for both forced labor and commercial sex — in Lubbock is on par with large cities, such as Houston and Dallas. To show you just how serious, his identity can’t be revealed because of the covert nature of the operation.

“Human trafficking has been going on since the dawn of time … If you have a person that’s willing to pay for sex, you’re going to have human trafficking,” the detective said. “[Victims] can be recruited, groomed and trafficked here in Lubbock and not ever leave the city limits.”

But in the last few months, LPD has received a number of tips from Uber and Lyft drivers. The tips helped police identify and save victims of trafficking.

“[Drivers] are trained to look for unaccompanied minors, third parties paying for the travel from one place to another,” the detective said.

Uber and Lyft are now training drivers to specifically watch out for passengers who may be victims of abuse. Examples of signs of trafficking and abuse include teens traveling from a hotel to another hotel, traveling to unsafe areas or traveling to areas different than what’s listed in the app.

The detective added that traffickers often use rideshares to transport victims as a way to stay hidden and avoid police.

“I think as drivers complete their training and are able to recognize the reality of these situations … they’ll get better,” the detective said.

He also encouraged families to watch out for the signs too. Often, it’s a sudden personality change, which can mirror the signs of domestic violence.

“If the person is normally somewhat depressed or not confident, and then they get into a relationship and they have an excessive amount of confidence or vice versa. They have a lot of confidence and they’re very daring, and they get into a relationship and they become meek and mild,” the detective said.

Traffickers prey on vulnerabilities, and the manipulation can start as simple as love and affection.

“Grooming can be anything from small gifts to shelter to food. It just depends on that person’s vulnerability,” the detective said.

If you see the signs in your child, he suggested talking to them first and trying to figure out when the behavior started. He said the key to a victim’s recovery is love and support from the family and professional counseling. You can find links to help victims here.

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