Around the world, over 20 million people have been victims of human trafficking, and Texas ranks second in the U.S. for the highest number of trafficking cases. Austin — being conveniently placed between Dallas, Houston and San Antonio — has been called the “triangle” of sex trafficking.
Additionally, major festivals and events make Austin a magnet for sex trafficking deals. Just this past weekend, Austin hosted the annual Formula 1 Grand Prix, and local law enforcement was preparing for an increase in sex trafficking incidents. It’s happening right under our noses, yet the conversation around the issue seems very limited.
Trafficking is occurring across the country, and to help combat it the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking released its first report last week detailing what human trafficking is, how it happens and what can be done to prevent it. The report aims to make recommendations to all levels of governments as to what can be done to address the matter and supports these recommendations with evidence and facts.
But what’s more is that the council is made up entirely of people who are human trafficking survivors, and the importance of this must not be overlooked.
“I think having this council in place will allow law enforcement to understand and almost humanize how real of an issue this is,” said Sergio Cavazos, president of the Senate of College Councils. “It should be shaped from a humanitarian perspective, and I think the council really is going to emphasize and allow law enforcement to realize that these people are human beings first, regardless of where they are coming or what’s going on with their background.”
In an interview with NPR, Ronny Marty, a labor trafficking survivor and council member, expressed the importance of survivors’ roles in providing insight from their personal experiences and that this very insight should be taken advantage of in order to combat the billion dollar industry.
The council’s report not only provides crucial insights from survivors but also serves as a model for how individual states within the U.S. can handle the issue. Taking into account suggestions and recommendations from survivors is a key stepping-stone in making more impactful progress.
“The feminist perspective, in particular, has pushed to bring women to the table in peace talks worldwide, and studies have shown that when those who are the most vulnerable to violence and exploitation are brought to the table, change is more viable and sustainable,” said Melissa Torres, director of Human Trafficking Research Portfolio at the UT Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault.
This is why creating more councils like the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking is so important — they allow for more impactful progress. Members of this council know what other survivors and victims need, and they are able to represent those who don’t have a voice at the higher level where those voices need to be heard. And if more groups like this come to be, there is the potential to make a bigger impact than government could make on its own.
Agha is a public relations junior from Karachi, Pakistan. Follow her on Twitter @alinaagha96.