TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - A new statewide approach in the fight against modern-day slavery was launched in Tyler on Wednesday.
The campaign called Can You See Me? is the result of a partnership between the global anti-human trafficking organization A21, the Network to End Sexual Exploitation, the Outdoor Advertising Association of Texas, and Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott.
Officials held a campaign launch event Wednesday afternoon at 1918 E. Front St. in Tyler.
Can You See Me? includes a series of billboards depicting scenarios of the most common forms of human trafficking. They are displayed in public spaces and transportation hubs across Texas.
The campaign will highlight the realities of human trafficking in the United States. Its goal is to equip the public to recognize indicators of human trafficking and report suspicious behavior to dedicated hotline numbers.
“It’s a project that is educating the community about the truth of human trafficking, but also equipping and empowering just normal, every day citizens to make a true difference,” said author, speaker and abolitionist Sandy Storm.
Those behind the project want anyone who suspects human trafficking activity to call the Polaris National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST.
“It’s not only exposing the truth of trafficking, it’s equipping the community and it’s also letting traffickers and buyers know that they are seen by the eyes of Texas,” Storm said.
Earlier this year, the U.S. State Department released its 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report. It shows the United States was one of the top three nations of origin for human trafficking victims in 2018. The other two nations at the top of the list are Mexico and the Philippines. The annual report documents human trafficking in the previous year.
“There are more people being trafficked in the United States from the United States than people being brought in from other countries and trafficked within our borders,” Storm said.
For Storm, the fight is personal.
“I was trafficked from the age of six to about 26, and I experienced trafficking in many different forms. Familial trafficking. I experienced trafficking on the streets. I experienced trafficking through strip clubs,” she said.
In the United States, traffickers prey upon children in the foster care system, according to the U.S. State Department, which consistently reports that a large number of child sex trafficking victims were at one time in the foster care system.
Sarah Shelton, with the Network to End Sexual Exploitation, calls human trafficking an epidemic.
“This epidemic is real, and the Network to End Sexual Exploitation exists to assist in eradicating sex trafficking in our communities and to offer a holistic approach to serving the victims,” Shelton said.
Smith County Assistant District Attorney Bryan Jiral praised the campaign as a another step forward in the effort to reach victims and catch those responsible for trafficking.
“This campaign will make it easier for us to tell these stories and to seek justice for the victims,” Jiral said. “But it also tells the traffickers we see you, too. It tells the Johns, the consumers of this ‘product,’ we see you.”
Can You See Me? will run through October 2020 and is expected to reach tens of millions of commuters.
If you believe you may have information about a trafficking situation, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733. More information about reporting trafficking can be found at this link.