AUSTIN (KXAN) — It started when she was a child. Crystal Sepulveda was trafficked by a family member.
“This person was convicted and sent to federal prison for — he not only trafficked myself, he trafficked other people who were from Mexico,” she said.
As a juvenile, Sepulveda ended up in the Bexar County probation system and was sent to a facility for trafficked young people. Now, she helps others in Austin through the SAFE Alliance.
“It is something that our team specifically deals with and handles on a daily basis,” she said.
She said sex trafficking reports have increased across the state and locally. Just last month, a national FBI sting uncovered two teen victims in Austin.
“We’re finding new trends about people using Amazon wish lists and gift cards to keep it from being tracked,” Sepulveda said.
She said we’re also partially seeing an increase in reports, because more people know how to spot signs, but there’s still a need for more awareness.
That’s why her group supports a new Austin City Council resolution, which members passed unanimously Thursday.
It directs City Manager Spencer Cronk to put educational materials in all city buildings and shelters and encourages city vendors like the Salvation Army or Caritas to also post them and train their employees.
“A lot of these vendors already that do business with the city have that information available, but we don’t post signage and buildings that are owned by the city or even bridge shelters or any type of sheltering, especially related to vulnerable populations for this, like people experiencing homelessness,” explained Mackenzie Kelly, city council member for District 6.
Kelly spearheaded the resolution after meeting a sex trafficking survivor herself earlier this summer at a Travis County homeless encampment.
“She was so disassociated with what was going on. It broke my heart,” Kelly said. “And as soon as I learned that, I thought, ‘oh, my goodness, she can’t be the only person who’s experiencing this.'”
Kelly said cost is still being considered.
“The resolution doesn’t specifically call for funding, but there will be a cost associated with this, what that is, the city manager would have to come back to us about,” she said.
The SAFE Alliance is one place that offers public presentations as well as private training.
“It’s very important that we educate each other and understand how these things are happening in our city, so that we can help more people get to resources,” Sepulveda said.
These include how to spot red flags and where people in a particular business or industry might come across as victims, so they can help more people like Sepulveda before it’s too late.
“[It] takes a lifetime to heal from things like that,” she said.
The SAFE Alliance also has a 24-hour hotline for anyone who has a suspected trafficking situation, abuse or just needs somebody to talk to. You can call or text (512) 267-7233.