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Big push to fight human trafficking in Houston

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A 16-year-old girl who was brought to the United States illegally and held for ransom is now safe. Federal agents say she was found Wednesday evening.

We told you about the case on Tuesday. A mother had called for help, saying her daughter was kidnapped and seen at a store in west Houston.

Investigators say the girl paid coyotes to get to the U.S., but when she arrived here they demanded more money from her family for her release.

Immigration agents say they found the teenager at another store Wednesday evening on the Katy Freeway near Gessner. They haven't released any information about how they found her or if there are any arrests.

It's just one of the many cases of human trafficking. And there's a big push to fight it here in Houston.

Of the hundreds of thousands of trafficking victims across the country, the Department of Justice estimates one in four of them will travel through Houston at some point. That's why some local watchdog groups are hitting the streets and working to expose local hotspots for the crime.

From this area in east Houston to this street on the city's southwest side, some child advocates are calling the areas havens for human trafficking.

"I think what a lot of people don't understand is that Houston is really one of the key hubs for human trafficking in North America," said Dr. Bob Sanborn with Children At Risk.

The nonprofit organization is working to expose some of the so-called hot spots for human trafficking right now with a bus tour across the city.

"It's right here in Houston that many times they are raped, beaten, drugged into submission before being prostituted or trafficked out to other cities," Dr. Sanborn said.

He says the tour will identify local businesses police suspect are illegally luring and exploiting young girls, boys and women. The bus will travel the Ship Channel area near I-10 and Market Street. And it'll hit the Gulfton and Chimney Rock area.

"We can alert people to what's happening and give people an idea of what to look for," said Dr. Sanborn.

Children At Risk is also concerned smuggling operations could also lead to human trafficking when victims can't pay. Just Tuesday a woman called Houston police when she said men she hired to bring her 16-year-old daughter from Nicaragua demanded more money and kept the teen.

Back in March, 36 men, women and children from Guatemala and Honduras were found stashed in a small single family home in southeast Houston. One man was arrested during that raid

"Frankly, it's going to be more interesting to be on a bus and to see some of these businesses rather than just to hear them in a speech or in a PowerPoint presentation," Dr. Sanborn said.

Children At Risk says it hopes lawmakers will ultimately give police more tools to help crack down on these crimes.

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