AUSTIN, Texas – There are about 313,000 people in Texas who have been forced into prostitution or some other sort of work, researchers estimate in what they say is the broadest estimate ever conducted of human trafficking in Texas.
Roughly 234,000 of those people work under conditions of involuntary servitude or debt bondage, while the other 79,000 are children or young adults who were pushed into prostitution through coercion or some form of deception, according to the study released Tuesday by the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault at the University of Texas' School of Social Work.
The authors said their estimates are conservative and that they hope their study will serve as a reference point for law enforcement tasked with reducing trafficking, including those in Houston who are gearing up for a surge in sex trafficking ahead of the Feb. 5 Super Bowl.
Authorities have acknowledged that Texas, as one of the largest states in the country, is a hub for human trafficking in the U.S. and that the problem is particularly acute in Houston.
The scope of human trafficking has been difficult to measure largely because data has focused primarily on identified victims, according to the report. So researchers in 2014 began collaborating with other groups on an extensive mapping project that mined various databases, surveyed social service agencies that aid victims, and used other sources to obtain a more accurate tally.
"This is our first glimpse into the scope and impact of human trafficking in Texas," said Noel Busch-Armendariz, the institute's director. "Few states have this kind of insight into the number of people being exploited. And more importantly, each count reflects a human being living among us in slavery-like conditions."
Among the findings are that children and young adults who are homeless or in the foster care system have the highest risk of becoming involved in sex trafficking. The study also determined that the largest number of victims of labor trafficking are found in construction, cleaning services and restaurant kitchen work.