East Texas non-profit says human trafficking is not always a ‘big white scary van’

Texas ranks second in the U.S. in human trafficking
Published: Aug. 1, 2023 at 9:02 AM CDT
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Longview, Texas (KLTV/KTRE) - The film “Sound of Freedom” is currently in theaters here in East Texas and it is shining light on international child sex trafficking and non-profits are fighting against all forms of human trafficking locally.

Human trafficking is defined as forcing or compelling a person to provide labor or services or to engage in commercial sex acts.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking exists in every country including the U.S. nationwide.

“It’s not that big white scary van that picks up people it’s pretty much right in your face and you’re missing it,” said Melanie Wright a co-founder of HEPTA in Longview.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline received 3,534 reports of human trafficking from Texas in 2021. Among those numbers, 661 were for sex trafficking and 131 for labor trafficking. Globally the number of victims is in the millions.

“Texas ranks number 2 it’s probably closer to number 1 but it’s a 150 billion dollar industry,” said Wright.

Melanie Wright is one of the co-founders of HEPTA a coalition in Longview that offers transformation and aftercare to human trafficking survivors. For Wright bringing awareness to this issue in local risk areas is important.

“Your local motels and hotels because those are places that if you are being trafficked they can easily take you and use those places,” said Wright.

She also says trafficking can happen at truck stops, rest areas, and largely the internet.

“Trafficking has been going on from the beginning of time, but what’s gotten worse is the internet. getting upset with their parents.. the traffickers going to see that through the social media, we have to be monitoring that,” said Wright.

Here are some signs to look out for if someone is in a trafficking situation according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

• Not able to speak to anyone when they’re alone

• Answers seem scripted or rehearsed

• Signs of physical abuse

• Submissive or fearful

“With drugs, it’s a one-time use, with these children and these humans it’s repeated over and over and over,” said Wright.

For more information on resources for human trafficking, you can click, here.