Human trafficking is one of the largest crime enterprises in the world, and reports of human trafficking, especially sex trafficking of women, continue to increase in Kansas.
In 2017, there were 67 human trafficking cases in Kansas reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Of those, 51 related to sex trafficking, seven related to labor trafficking and five related to both. Four involved a male, 58 involved a female and three involved a “gender minority.” Meanwhile, 41 victims were adults and 28 were minors. Reported cases have steadily increased in Kansas since 2012, the last year with available data. In 2016, there were 54 reported cases.
Sgt. Jason Chase of the Garden City Police Department says local police officers actively work to get trafficking victims access to the resources they need, including shelters like the Oasis of Peace Center, an organization that opened its doors in February to women who have been trafficked and their minor children.
While trafficking levels in Garden City have increased over the last 10 years, Chase said, law enforcement does not yet classify it as an “epidemic” on the local level.
The stories are still harrowing. Chase said the GCPD has worked cases involving parents trafficking their own children.
Toni Douglass, a board member and volunteer coordinator at the Oasis Center, said many women victimized by sex trafficking are forced into commercial captivity without so much as a high school education.
Around the world, more than 40 million men, women and children are being trafficked and exploited by what is essentially modern-day slavery, according to estimations outlined in a 2016 report from the United Nation’s International Labor Organization.
In 2016, Politifact reported that assertions claiming human trafficking to be the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world — ranked only behind the drug trade and counterfeiting operations — are “mostly true,” based on figures given by the United Nations.
In Texas, about 79,000 minors and youth are thought to be victims of the state’s $6.6 billion sex trafficking industry, 234,000 workers are deemed victims of its $600 million labor trafficking industry, and there are an estimated 313,000 human trafficking victims throughout the state. Those numbers were projected in a recent study by the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault at The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work. The results of the study suggest there are many more incidents of human trafficking than are actually reported.
In 2016, there were more than 7,600 reported cases of human trafficking in the nation, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Of those, Texas accounted for 665, second only to California.
While Texas’ reported human trafficking numbers saw an ostensible decline in 2017 with 433 reported cases, the National District Attorneys Association reports that one in three homeless U.S. teens will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving their homes.
To combat the problem locally, the Oasis Center is focused on helping women escape sex trafficking by offering sanctuary and rehabilitation in western Kansas. After harboring the women, the center reaches out to a network of nationwide shelters across the country to identify one with enough space. Likewise, the Oasis Center takes women harbored at other shelters when those shelters lack space.
The women and children are afforded medical attention, counseling and other tools intended to make them productive members of society, including schooling. Women stay for different periods of time based on their trauma and are allowed to remain at the shelter for up to two years, Douglass said.
According to Douglass, women are most desirable for sex trafficking between ages 11 and 14, so many of them don’t have basic skills when they escape their trafficker.
“That is the No. 1 requested age group,” Douglass said, adding that the Super Bowl in February serves as the biggest sex trafficking event of the year, and a trafficked woman can make their trafficker $150,000 to $250,000 a year. She said any place with a truck stop can become a business center for sex traffickers.
Women who are trafficked in the Garden City area, however, are not kept at the Oasis Center, Douglass said. Noting that a woman was being trafficked last year at Schulman Crossing, she said women in Garden City are relocated to get them as far away from their trafficker as possible, and the location of the center can’t be openly disclosed in order to protect the women it serves.
“We have had many different stories,” Douglass said. “They are sometimes sold by a relative. We had a young woman that we know of that was sold by her stepdad for $200 and a truck to a trafficker in Texas. It’s an ugly, uncomfortable topic, and people don’t like to discuss it. But the fact is, every year it climbs. Human trafficking has not declined in the last 25 years.”
Lissette Garcia, the Oasis Center’s executive director, said sex trafficking victims are often beaten if they don’t make enough money. Douglass said they’re also drugged with prescription opioids and heroin to numb them to their abuse, risking their lives in the process. According to Douglass, it often starts for women with a boyfriend, and some don’t even know they’re being trafficked.
“Why there has not been a national outcry and why it isn’t something that is brought to our attention daily is alarming to all of us that work in this industry trying to help because many, many young people disappear every day in this country,” Douglass said.