On a seemingly normal night, Emily and one of her roommates went to a local club instead of the movies. There, she caught the eye of an older man who convinced her to drive back to a hotel with him. Before she knew what was going on, Emily had been drugged. She was then videotaped being raped by a series of men.
This is the brutal reality of human trafficking.
Of all the men who went to the hotel, a drug-dealer was the one who became concerned about Emily’s condition. He alerted the police, which ultimately connected Emily to Unbound, a non-profit in Waco that mobilizes churches and communities to fight against human trafficking. Over the past four years, UnBound has spread to eight instrumental locations, ranging from Waco to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. UnBound’s long-term goals are to provide education to every school, teacher, parent and administrator in the areas surrounding its offices to keep all boys and girls safe. Baylor alumna Natalie Garnett (‘12) is the Assistant National Director of UnBound. While Emily’s story sounds like a horror movie, Garnett says she has heard equally disturbing trafficking cases over the years.
This year alone, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 4,460 human trafficking cases in the United States — with Texas ranking second–highest at 433 cases. Countless more go unidentified as Interstate 35 serves as one of the central corridors for trafficking between Mexico and the United States. $150 billion trafficking dollars flow through the US every year. In Waco, the statistics are changing. From 19 victims served in 2016 to 45 in 2017, UnBound saw their number of cases more than double as their influence in the community has continued to grow. Garnett said anti-human trafficking work is “messy” and more complex than people think.
UnBound focuses on three main areas: prevention education, professional training, and survivor advocacy.
As UnBound’s outreach has expanded, they are receiving more reports of those who are at risk or have been affected by trafficking. Garnett said when the police informed UnBound of Emily’s case, they took necessary measures to nurture and care for her with the help of local counseling centers and hospitals. UnBound’s counselors soon realized that the majority of trafficking cases were going unheard because counseling centers and businesses in Waco did not have the proper training to identify trafficking victims, Garnett said.
To mobilize and spread awareness, UnBound joined hands with local businesses to strengthen and focus its efforts. In 2015, UnBound formed the Heart of Texas Human Trafficking Coalition. The HTHTC was not designed to create a new organization, but to bring local anti-trafficking efforts together. Leading the efforts of the coalition, UnBound works with the help of local law enforcement, the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children, District Attorney, District Judge, and Communities in Schools, to unify and educate each organization to help use their resources most effectively.
According to Aaron Mize, (‘14) Chief Strategy Officer for Waco Communities in Schools (CIS), the organization’s work in trafficking prevention is “unique.” When forming the HTHTC, UnBound applied for a federal grant to help stretch their resources and work more effectively in the local school districts. Mize acts as UnBound’s fiscal agent to oversee grant functions and keep goals pointed and attainable.
Communities in Schools currently exist within 19 at-risk schools in McLennan County, from Waco ISD to Mexia ISD.
Mize said CIS has social workers and social service professionals stationed on campuses to identify and counsel students who are at-risk for trafficking. CIS uses Texas Education Funding criteria to identify “at-risk” schools. These at-risk schools usually have high concentrations of students from low-income families, with students who range from not meeting reading level expectations and not advancing from one grade to the next, to teen pregnancy and English proficiency problems — making them especially vulnerable to traffickers. Though these indicators help recognize some of the signs of trafficking, “trafficking isn’t as clear-cut as we’d like it to be,” Garnett said.
Garnett said people want to imagine trafficking as the story of the girl next door who is kidnapped and dragged into a basement. Though that does happen, Garnett said, it’s not always that intense; sexual abuse can occur in more stable situations as well.
Investigator Kandy Knowles of the Baylor University Police Department said trafficking is typically a gradual process based around grooming tactics. Traffickers are not always strangers. It could be someone the victim knows. Trafficking can start from receiving a single compliment online.
The grooming process begins once the trafficker has targeted his or her victim. Through casual conversations, a trafficker will begin to gain information, exposing areas of need in their life. The information gained allows the trafficker to fill a need in the victim’s life, making the victim dependent on them in some way. Once they meet the need, the trafficker creates more time to be alone with the victim, establishing himself as a major role in the victim’s life. Soon the abuse begins and the victim is threatened to pay back the trafficker.
UnBound wants to educate students, as well as the families and faculty impacting them, to recognize indicators and be aware of predators on social media. “More than anything we need to engage with youth in our city,” Garnett said.