The young girl has spent the large part of the night running. Her feet ache, her body feels like a thousand pins have been punched into it. To breathe, is painful. To stop, though, is suicide. She has run miles, crossing the border between El-Paso and Houston, hoping to run back home. She wants to go back to the comfort and safety that life offered her, that her life promised her- she wants to run back to the arms she unwittingly left, when the lure of an older boyfriend seemed much more adventurous than being a nerd at school.
Her reality is shockingly Houston’s Dirtiest Secret.
Human Trafficking is still a thriving phenomenon because of these “clients” who keep the practice going because of their “needs”. Coupled with the proclivity for the hedonistic ideology is the astounding degree of ignorance that blinds most of society, leading them to believe that girls “want” to be a part of a brothel, and are “voluntarily” a part of brothels. The United Nations estimates that 700,000 to 4 million women and children are trafficked around the world for purposes of forced prostitution, labour and other forms of exploitation every year. Trafficking is estimated to be a $7 billion dollar annual business.
One would think that such a crime as Human Trafficking would hardly transpire within the United States, which, it is believed, thrives under the aegis of a well-crafted human rights scheme. But prepare to be shocked. As fingers point aplenty in the direction of South East Asia, Africa and some parts of the Middle East, there isn’t anything different in the United States. Houston, it seems, is well known as a set up for ‘training brothels’. The US Department of Health and Human Services notes that 25% of all the Human Trafficking victims are in Texas, while the Polaris Project explains that 30% of all human trafficking tips to the National Rescue Hotline came from Texas.
Some prescience did indeed go into the nomenclature- The Wild-Wild West.
Unfortunately, it happens to be far too wild for any sane person’s liking.
Why is Texas, particularly Houston, so vulnerable to trafficking? More importantly, why is this dirty secret allowed to remain- an open secret, a fact that everyone knows, an issue that thrives and transpires right under everyone's nose, without anyone taking any action?
The answer is simple. It is believed that Texas and the Southwest Border continue to serve as the biggest point of illegal entry into the United States, largely because trafficker are easily able to get aliens across, without any documents in tow. Owing to the lack of any hardliner checking authorities to impose penalties for paperless travel and to keep in check quick illegal border crossing, there is an ease of movement. People are the easiest resources to put a price on, and a far easier resource to traffic about. So long as flesh trade and unabashed illegal sex trade is coveted, people are necessary resources- the necessary “raw-material” for the “flourishing” of such “trades”. What better an opportunity than a stretch of unmanned, unguarded land, that comfortably offer anyone a chance to send things across a border?
Human trafficking is by all means, a global problem. Global responses, however, are not enough- one needs to think globally, but act locally. President Obama observed in 2011 noting that “no country can claim immunity from the scourge of human rights abuses, or from the responsibility to confront them.” Strangely, though, there seems precious little being done about the impunity that is prevalent in all rampancy closer home. That Houston has a dirty secret maybe an inconvenient truth. That Houston has piles of dirt under its carpet maybe difficult to admit. But, the convenience in the reluctance to admit that trafficking is a response to market demands, poor labor and immigration legislation, absence of penalties for abusers, economic and development disparities, gender and ethnic inequities and a lackadaisical approach towards administrative responsibilities, is the most alarming trend.
Until that is remedied, Houston’s skeletons will sit chattering in the closet. And until that is remedied, Houston’s dirt will pile under its carpet.
By Kirthi Gita Jayakumar