Trafficking affects every demographic. Victims are men, women, girls and boys; young and old; they are from all races and economic classes.
How one UST Alumna is Making a Difference
Sex slavery… forced labor… black market organ harvesting. These are ugly words for an ugly business—the multibillion dollar business of human trafficking—also known as modern enslavement.
By definition, human trafficking is the act of enslaving a person by force, fraud, coercion or manipulation for the purpose of exploitation or commercial gain. Trafficking affects every demographic. Victims are men, women, girls and boys; young and old; they are from all races and economic classes. Often, the common denominator is that victims are vulnerable to exploitation and may lack the ability to protect themselves. Legal status, language barriers, poverty and age are frequent factors that expose individuals to victimization. Sadly, almost 20 percent of trafficking victims worldwide are children.
Considered mere commodities by their captors, these modern-day slaves are subjected to physical, psychological and financial control; forced to live and work in unsafe or life-threatening conditions with little or no pay; and coerced into participating in illegal activities. They are sex workers, production and labor industry workers, and, in some countries, they are human guinea pigs whose organs are harvested and sold on the black market.
In a 2017 report, the International Labour Organization and Walk Free Foundation estimated that 24.9 million victims are trapped in modern-day slavery. While the estimates of the number of human trafficking victims in the U.S. range widely, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has received more than 40,000 reports of human trafficking cases in the last 10 years.
Houston, while renowned as a global epicenter for energy, technology, medicine, aeronautics, culture and more, is also a major hub for human trafficking. But one UST alumna wants to change that; with God and the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) on her side, she is making headway.
The Wendy Factor
By day, Wendy Millhouse, MAFC ’15, works in Houston’s energy industry, but in her off hours, she devotes her energy to ending human trafficking in the Bayou City. A devoted Catholic and graduate of UST’s Fr. Nesti Center for Faith and Culture, Millhouse attended a Houston-area training session on human trafficking held by the USCCB in 2015. She left asking herself, “How can this be happening in our beautiful city?”
She learned that Houston’s proximity to the Mexican border and large population of vulnerable undocumented immigrants are major contributors to its trafficking problem. The city’s many ports, trains, airports and other transportation sites enable traffickers to move their “merchandise” with relative ease. The dense urban environment and suburban sprawl also allow traffickers to hide their crimes in plain sight.
Inspired to do something—anything—to help, Millhouse joined forces with other Center for Faith and Culture students and began volunteering with the USCCB’s anti-trafficking program, The Amistad Movement. The group’s mission is “to educate on the scourge of human trafficking as an offense against the fundamental dignity of the human person, to advocate for an end to modern-day slavery, to provide training and technical assistance on the issue, and to support survivors through community-based services.”
Like the captives aboard the Amistad slave ship who revolted and won their freedom in 1839, the Amistad Movement seeks to empower immigrants in at-risk communities with the educational tools to protect their own community members from falling victim to human trafficking. Millhouse and her fellow volunteers provide workshops and trainings, recruit peer educators to raise awareness of the issue in their communities, build trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities, and maintain a coalition of programs and organizations that provide benefits to victims.
As a graduate of the Fr. Nesti Center for Faith and Culture, Millhouse is putting what she learned at UST into action. The driving force behind the Center is to help students understand and affect the relationship between the Gospel and the American way of life, with special emphasis on the formation of community leaders who will integrate faith through ongoing action. Its programs bring the Catholic voice to the ongoing conversation about the meaning of life, and the liberty and pursuit of happiness Americans hold in common.
“Helping people gain an understanding of trafficking is my goal,” she said. “If I can educate the community and the vulnerable on this horrible issue that plagues our city and our world, then I feel I’m living my calling and putting my degree to good use.”
Millhouse and her group are particularly proud of creating a new training program for Amistad that includes a teaching manual and booklets for advocates to share with their communities. These valuable resources changed and improved the way that Amistad trains, educates and raises awareness of trafficking.
The group is also focused on outreach, strategy and marketing their campaign to the Church’s vast network of social service providers, advocates, charities and ministries, as well as parishes in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Their goal is to involve the pastors in creating positive change and, ultimately, a community free from human trafficking.
“Our team is working very hard to make this happen,” Millhouse said. “It’s a wide-spread campaign; it’s hard, but we believe it will happen by the grace of God.”
Warning Signs of Potential Trafficking Risk
- Offers that seem too good to be true
- Job that requires payment up front
- Employers who want to keep identity documents
- New friends who do not want to meet a potential victim’s family or visit their home
- Working conditions that are different than described
- Boyfriends or girlfriends who encourage sneaking out
Signs of a Trafficked Person
- Unable to leave the work environment
- Have limited contact with family or friends
- Someone controls where they go
- Not allowed to speak for themselves
- Shows fear or anxiety
- Suffers injuries as a result of assault or control measures
- Acts as if they are being instructed by another
- Receives little or no payment
- Works excessively long hours over long periods of time
False Promises made by Traffickers
- A good job
- An opportunity to provide for the family
- Education opportunities
- A better life