Advocates Seek Help to Fight Human Trafficking
Austin sits right on the I-35 corridor, a straight shot from our southern border with Mexico to our northern border with Canada. It is a location with advantages for human traffickers – both foreign and domestic, and new efforts in Austin are aimed at helping trafficking survivors.
Austin Police Sergeant Keith Suitt works in the small office that houses the APD’s Human Trafficking Unit. But he says the room’s size doesn’t represent all the work there is to do.
“Actually, the past three weeks have been extremely busy for us,” Suitt said. “We’ve had case after case – each week we are getting hit with multiple instances where we have potential victims being identified and suspects arrested.”
Survivors are both international and American. Most are girls. Many were sexually abused as children. Some are very young. Others have a mental disability. All are vulnerable.
Jessica Richardson is a survivor.
“It started right after my 17th birthday,” Richardson said. “And then, he moved me so fast from city to city to city – up and down the West Coast – and I spent some time in Hawaii. It’s so fast it disorients you. And you are being raped 15, 20, 30 times a day. And if you start doing things wrong and you disobey, you don’t eat.”
Jessica Richardson decided to risk an escape after two crucial events during her captivity. First, she was beaten to the point she realized the next beating could kill her. Second, she found out she was pregnant. She gave birth to a girl 12 years ago.
Richardson now lives in Portland. She’s married and has four more kids. She also founded a non-profit for survivors of human trafficking. This week, she traveled to Austin to advise a new non-profit called Restore A Voice about practical ways it can help survivors.
“While in Haiti, on a mission effort, right after the Earthquake, a man walked up to me and offer to sell me a 7-year-old girl. He wanted 9 dollars for her,” said Larry Megason, who founded Restore A Voice. “I came back to Austin and began to research what was happening – not only globally – but what was happening right here in Austin.”
Most of the children are used in the sex trade. When they are taken from their captors, APD’s Human Trafficking Unit has very few options as to where to place them. Child Protective Services is one. If they are international, Refugee Services of Texas can help. Restore a Voice hopes to fill in the gaps. The group is hosting a fundraising event tonight at 8 p.m. at Ballet Austin.