EL PASO, Texas | The world of sex-trafficking is complicated and complex, yet the solution may be as simple as education.
"Education is key," said Virginia, a victim liaison for the Paso Del Norte's Center of Hope who requested that her last name not be used so traffickers couldn't use her to find the victims she works with. "I am a native El Pasoan and I had no idea how big of an issue sex trafficking — human trafficking in general — is here in El Paso."
In recent years, anti-trafficking nonprofit groups such as the Center of Hope and federal, state and local law enforcement have worked to bring sex trafficking to the public's attention.
Edward Owens, assistant special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations in El Paso, said El Paso is a hotspot for sex trafficking in two ways — many victims are forced into sex there, and traffickers use El Paso as a key stop along the circuits of cities where they sell their victims.
"This makes it more important for us to try to intercede at this level," he said. "It gets harder once they are moved into the interior of the United States."
Law enforcement and anti-trafficking groups want people to recognize the signs so they can help.
"Keep your eyes open and keep listening," Virginia said. "Most of the victims, nationwide, come to the attention of entities like ourselves because someone see something where they get a gut feeling that something just isn't right. This person just looks like they are being controlled or beaten up and needs help."
A shy person who won't make eye contact, a neighbor who never leaves the house alone, someone who seems to be controlled by someone else, houses filled with people who are not allowed to go outside unaccompanied or have an unusual number of visitors — all could signal human trafficking.
"It could be a visit to a grocery store, a salon, a hotel or at your apartment complex," Virginia said. "There are so many different places where a sex-trafficking victim could be forced to go."