By Natalie Morales
Sex trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world, and West Texas is no exception.
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 433 human trafficking cases were reported in Texas in 2015. The center received 1,731 calls related to trafficking in Texas.
Just last month Ukedrian Tyrell Anderson, 18, of Lubbock was arrested for forcing an 18-year-old woman into prostitution. The victim believed she would be harmed if she did not comply.
According to Everything Lubbock, Lubbock County Sheriff’s Department set up a prostitution sting at a motel in the 900 block of 66th Street. The deputies set up the sting by responding to an ad on Backpage. An undercover officer invited the advertiser to spend 45 minutes with him at the motel. After determining she was trading sex for money, the woman was arrested. The woman denied having a pimp, but later led officers to her boyfriend, Anderson, in another room.
Jaime Wheeler, a case manager and sex trafficking victim advocate for Voice of Hope, said she sees no difference between sex trafficking and prostitution. Many prostitutes were abused as children either by a family member or a friend, she said, and few prostitute without a pimp, or someone else, taking their money.
“Really, to me, I still consider that human trafficking because you’re still being abused by a john,” Wheeler said. “Still abused by a system that led you to a place that you have to survive, and to do that you have to sell your body.”
There has not been a big difference in case numbers since last year, Wheeler said, but there has been more collaboration within the groups working on the issue in the Lubbock area. She said there is still more work to be done.
Kenneth Castillo, vice president of the board of directors of Voice of Hope, the Lubbock Rape Crisis Center, and member of the Lubbock Human Rescue Coalition, created a men’s organization to end violence against women on the South Plains called South Plains Men Challenging Men.
He said there are many women’s organizations talking to the public about the issue, but not many focusing on men and masculinity. Most people do not believe this huge problem occurs in the college town of Lubbock, he added.
“It’s that small town mentality that is letting the problem continue to get as bad as it has,” Castillo said.
Vulnerable young teens or young adults can often be lured in by pimps and sex trafficking workers, he said. He believes that until the age of 25, everyone is at risk.
Sex trafficking is easy to hide from law enforcement, Wheeler said, because a case has to be built against the “john” or the pimp. Even if police officers think forced prostitution is occurring, they must have evidence before they can arrest the pimps—and the process is complicated.
“You can arrest 1,000 prostitutes, 500 pimps, but if there is still a demand out there, double that will come to fill that demand,” Castillo said.
Pimps are smart, Wheeler said, sometimes putting anything they own in their girls’ names so they do not have to worry about records getting traced back to them. In many cases, she said, people get arrested for money laundering rather than human trafficking.
This happens because law enforcement needs to go a different route to collect enough evidence against sex traffickers, she said, because many victims will not talk about their experience.
“Sometimes if you do find victims, they’ve been so brainwashed that they won’t offer up enough information,” Wheeler said. “It’s probably one of the hardest to build up enough evidence in a case against.”
For sex trafficking to completely end in the Lubbock area, a lot must happen, she said.
“It’s going to have to be a cultural shift,” Wheeler said. “That’s one of the hardest parts because that takes place within people individually.”
Wheeler hopes continued collaboration between different nonprofit groups will expand to help victims. She would also like to see law enforcement have a specific team that works on sex trafficking cases.
If one suspects sex trafficking, Wheeler suggests reporting it. Even if there are not enough details to make an arrest, it could be enough to at least begin an investigation.
Lubbock also needs better support for victims once they are safe, Wheeler said. To accomplish this, Voice of Hope is working on building a safe house for victims.