The sex industry is active in East Texas and locals need to be aware of the signs, according to law enforcement officers and nonprofit leaders.
Law enforcement and non-governmental agencies came together Tuesday at Green Acres Baptist Church to present information about sex trafficking and prostitution issues in Tyler and East Texas.
Over 200 members of the community attended the panel discussion that featured featured officers from Longview, Dallas, the Smith County Sheriff's Office, the Tyler Police Department and the FBI.
Women and girls ranging in age from 13 to 62 have been manipulated and trafficked into the sex industry, according to information shared at the event.
"You take a severely traumatized person, it makes them vulnerable and the recruitment process happens quickly," said Detective Michael McMurry of the Dallas Police Department’s high risk victims anti-trafficking squad. "Dallas pimps will recruit runaway girls in Dallas, Tyler and Longview. Tyler's runaway girls end up trafficked in Dallas or Shreveport."
Longview Police Department Detective Debra Stiles reiterated to the audience that your girls are my girls and my girls are your girls, meaning the young women from Tyler are trafficked and prostituted elsewhere.
Event organizer Donna Fraser said she has learned the reasons women ended up in the sex industry in Tyler was because they believed they could make more money in Tyler and nobody was looking for them.
"It doesn't mean that law enforcement isn't looking," Fraser said. "If we are not looking for it, it will go on around us in plain sight. I want to make sure that people are conditioned to look for it."
Nonprofit agencies from around the state and even one from Stuttgart, Germany, took part in the panel discussion. Representatives from these agencies shared their individual missions and success stories from working with trafficked victims.
"This is an orphan issue,” Emily Mills of the ministry Jesus Said Love said. "Common issues of sexually trafficked women are childhood sexual abuse and poverty. Stopping survival sex is how we have to fight this."
The discussion panel ended with the law enforcement officials answering questions from the audience.
"If you walk away from this with one thing, it’s that it is here," Chris Cantrell of the Shreveport FBI office said. "Awareness is very important. Support to the agencies helping victims is very important. A difference is being made because of what we're doing right here."
Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-800-373-7888 or local law enforcement to report human trafficking.