AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott has joined the fight to end human trafficking in the Lone Star State.
At a Wednesday press conference, Abbott appeared with leaders of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to announce their partnership, which aims to stop labor and sex trafficking in bars and restaurants where alcohol is sold.
“As most of us go about our daily lives, these victims are hidden in plain sight,” Abbott said, referencing the thousands of Texans exploited in labor and sex trade.
Abbott is featured in a new public service announcement that builds upon the state’s “Be The One” anti-trafficking campaign that was launched in Texas last year by the state’s Attorney General’s office. Abbott also visited a ranch in Central Texas refuge for trafficking victims, which opened earlier this year.
A 2017 study by the University of Texas revealed there are more than 300,000 victims of trafficking in Texas, costing the state of Texas $6.5 billion.
“I had no idea the numbers were what they are, but I’m so glad now that there is such a focus on this,” Abbott said. “That is what I passionately want to do, especially because we are talking about a lot of young women.”
Kevin Lilly, chairman of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, said the agency’s role in taking the lead on investigating crimes at licensed bars, convenience stores, retailers, clubs, and some restaurants, was a deciding factor in the partnership.
“The reality is, is that we are a significant state police force,” Lilly said.
“So much of this activity takes place in bars,” he said. “If you go back to the history of our state, the saloons are usually the place where the bad stuff happened, and frankly it hasn’t changed much.”
Lilly said Texas is second in the nation for reported human trafficking cases.
“A lot of people don’t know what it is, they don’t know that it’s going on, and yet it goes on every day,” he said. “If you look into it, it’s such a horrific, evil, practice, and if people understood how bad it was, I think it would raise the awareness.”
Agency leaders said there are some legitimate businesses that operate as a front for illegal trafficking, which has spurred a crackdown across the state, and an appeal to the public for help.
“Every citizen in Texas can help eradicate this, it’s not just ‘leave it to the cops,” Lilly said.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office has compiled a list of tell-tale signs of labor and sex trafficking. Anyone who believes they see human trafficking behavior is urged to call 911.