LUFKIN, Texas (KETK) — January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Experts say it is a time to learn the signs and signals of exploitation.
On Tuesday, the Family Crisis Center of East Texas reached out to the community to educate them on the dangers of human trafficking by sharing a documentary that tells the story of survival.
The film is called “Surviving Human Trafficking.” It shares the real and raw experiences of people who were trafficked.
“That’s what Hollywood doesn’t get right. They can still go to school. They can still go to stores. You can still see them out in public,” said Maria Villarreal, human and sex trafficking expert.
Human trafficking is defined as a modern form of slavery, and it is happening across the state. That is why it is important to notice the signs of someone who is being forced into exploitative labor or sexual services.
“They seem paranoid. They seem scared. They’re being branded, so they have tattoos that represent they are property of somebody,” Villarreal said.
Texas is ranked number two behind California in the United States for the number of trafficking hotline calls.
“I think that’s kind of an eye-opening statistic. It’s not happening everywhere else. It’s happening right here in our communities and in Texas,” said Whitney Burran, the Executive Director of the Family Crisis Center of East Texas.
Experts said many of the victims are taken by people they know.
“You do not want to approach the victim because you are putting yourself in danger, and you’re also putting that victim in more danger. Instead, report to your local police department (and) report to the National Human Trafficking Hotline Center,” Villarreal said.
Awareness, education and advocacy can help save a life.