Human trafficking is often referred to as the modern form of slavery in the U.S. and it is no stranger to San Marcos. That is why a new student organization has set out to fight against the issue.
Human trafficking, as defined by the United Nations, is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons by improper means such as force abduction, fraud or coercion for improper purposes including forced labor or sexual exploitation.
Texas is ranked among the top three states in the U.S. for sex trafficking, according to Human Trafficking Search. It is estimated that in the city of Houston, 1 in 3 runaways will be lured into trafficking.
Megan O’Shea, fashion merchandising junior, decided to create a branch of Rescue Her, a Dallas-based organization, on campus to raise awareness of human trafficking.
O’Shea said Rescue Her is a nonprofit organization that focuses beyond bringing awareness. Though education is a major part of the process, the organization’s main focus is taking action through motel outreaches.
“We’ll go and talk to the people at the front desk or the housekeepers that work at motels and try and get an idea at first of what they know about trafficking that goes on,” O’Shea said. “From there we gain a relationship with the staff and come back every month.”
O’Shea and her team give motel staff information cards that help identify signs of human trafficking as well as hotline cards for housekeepers to place where victims may be able to find them. O’Shea brings a missing persons list compiled from cities in the surrounding area on her follow up visits to the motels.
O’Shea said she would eventually like to set up training sessions with the staff about the complexities of human trafficking. This would help reports made by motel staff happen quicker and more efficiently. O’Shea said she hopes one day reports are high enough so human traffickers can no longer use San Marcos as their trafficking hub.
“A lot of people don’t understand that it’s not necessarily a girl being dragged and being forced into it,” O’Shea said. “A lot of times the girl is there, in their mind, voluntarily but they’ve actually been manipulated into it.”
Rescue Her had its first motel outreach this month. O’Shea said she knows human trafficking is something that happens everywhere in every community yet she was still startled by the major presence of it in San Marcos.
“A lot of the motel staff just off I-35 were very open about how often they see these issues,” O’Shea said. “They knew that it was not right what was going on, but they didn’t know what to do about it.”
O’Shea said the best thing people can do to help is report suspicions to the local police or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888 if they see a situation possibly reflecting signs of human trafficking.
“If you see something is wrong, don’t push it away or keep it inside,” O’Shea said. “It is so important to make a report, even if the perpetrator has gone, so the police can have that information and description.”
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, signs to look out for include a person seeming abnormally fearful or anxious in a space, nervousness around law enforcement or not wanting to be physically touched.
O’Shea said she advises motel staff members to pay attention to the pairing of people. Some potential red flags include a large age difference, a difference in ethnicity or if an older person appears significantly cleaner than the younger person with them. It is important to keep in mind that both men and women can be perpetrators of human trafficking.
Rescue Her teamed up with Beauty For Freedom, a non-profit organization fighting to end human trafficking all over the world, for an event called Project Ghana.
Project Ghana is intended to bring awareness to the global scale of human trafficking. It will have live music, an art exhibition by Texas State alumnus Travis McCann and a silent auction from 6-10 p.m. April 28 at The Marc. All proceeds made during the event will be going into Beauty For Freedom’s beneficial efforts to support survivors of human trafficking and at-risk youth in Ghana.
Monica Watkins, co-founder and executive director of Beauty For Freedom, said this event is a great opportunity for people to gain awareness and support a cause.
“It’s not just ‘why should we care about Ghana,'” Watkins said. “It’s that we should care about the fact that there are more people enslaved in the world today than at any other time in human history.”
Like Ashton Kutcher said in his letter to Congress about human trafficking, no one organization alone can end the problem. Together, members of the community can help victims and survivors of human trafficking. Becoming educated on the issue, reporting potential cases and donating money or time to organizations combating human trafficking are steps anyone can take to combat this atrocity.
“We need to be the change,” O’Shea said.