AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department held a virtual forum Tuesday morning to kick off its Human Trafficking Awareness Month initiative.
Officers with the APD Human Trafficking Unit as well as human trafficking survivors and local organizations that help victims of human trafficking all attended.
The organizations featured, like Sanctuary Project, Refugee Services of Texas, The SAFE Alliance and Allies Against Slavery, provide resources and support those victims in a variety of areas.
Sgt. Mike Spear with the APD Human Trafficking Unit said a lot of people aren’t aware trafficking exists in Austin and that it’s prevalent.
“The majority of cases that we work are usually teenage girls, teenage runaways, basically victimized by traffickers and groomed to get them to think that they are actually their boyfriends and either forcing them or talking them into being sex trafficked,” Spear explained.
He said the unit of 15 detectives works an average of 400 human trafficking cases a year along with prostitution, child exploitation and gambling cases.
He said trafficking can be hard to spot sometimes, but some signs include victims being isolated or scared to interact with strangers, their basic needs like food not being met and them not having control over their cell phone or identification.
Allison Franklin, SAFE Alliance director and survivor of trafficking herself said research shows runaways are normally approached within 72 hours of running away.
“As a runaway myself, I can assure you that any runaway is at risk of being trafficked. Not only are they being targeted by predators and buyers but also traffickers as well,” she said.
If you need to reach out to APD about human trafficking, click here. You can also reach the National Human Trafficking Hotline by calling 1 (888) 373-7888.