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Evelyn’s Park safety series educates about trafficking

September 17, 2018

A human trafficking expert told Bellaire-area parents that today’s average trafficking victim looks nothing like what most Americans envision.

Jennifer Hohman is a community leader and advocate with anti-trafficking organizations Houston 20 and Fight for Us. On Thursday, Sept. 13, she shared her knowledge about human trafficking at the Safety Series at the Park. The Crime Stoppers of Houston series began earlier this summer at Evelyn’s Park in Bellaire.

Hohman got involved in the fight against trafficking in 2016 after she heard of four daughters of people just one degree away from her that had been groomed by traffickers and went missing, all within a matter of months.

Today, Hohman has six girls that she helped free and now considers daughters. She said the girls did not fit the idea most people have of trafficking victims.

“They all came from very good homes. They were middle- to upper-class families, so it was absolutely not the persona that I thought it was. Right?” Hohman said. “It was not the child that was in [foster care] although foster care is a huge pipeline into girls being trafficked. It wasn’t the foreign girl that came across the border via a ‘coyote.’ It wasn’t someone that emigrated over here or an Asian. This was literally what looked like us.”

Hohman explained how because of the thousands of dollars of profit at stake, traffickers often take 12 to 18 months to groom a victim. She said they first befriend them, and then they intoxicate them by introducing or increasing drugs or alcohol. Next, they alienate and isolate them from their families and friends before they start revealing what is really going on, Hohman said. Finally, she said the traffickers capitalize on their months of work and traffic them.

Parents should understand the process, be aware of the signs that their children are in trouble and talk to them about the dangers, Hohman said. She also encouraged parents to trust their gut when they think something is wrong.

She said a lot of the grooming and trafficking starts online, and a big reason for that is the sheer number of people that have access to children and teens there. Low self-esteem is also a common factor, and Hohman said traffickers prey on areas where the victims are vulnerable, such a having problems at school or going through a breakup.

Hohman said citizens need to get active in the fight, pushing for anti-trafficking laws and supporting abolitionists. In her work with Houston 20, she learned legislators and most elected officials start paying attention when they get phone calls from about 25 constituents, which she said is a low bar to meet.

Concerned parents or citizens can get involved with a number of organizations, including Houston 20, which Hohman described as a community uprising against trafficking in the city. Hohman said she expects to see Houston 20 fighting soon against a civil lawsuit by Harris County against a group that included 55 sex trafficking victims following an effort to clean out a red-light district on Bissonnet.

Although Hohman said she believes the numbers are low because they only show what is reported, according to Crime Stoppers, Texas has an estimated 313,000 human trafficking victims and more than 79,000 minors that are being trafficked for sex each year.

Hohman said from the time they are trafficked into sex, the average victim lives just seven years.

“To me, this is a massive public health crisis. We all freak out about Ebola and all these other diseases, but literally, people are dying from this situation, and the chance of rescue is less than 2 percent,” Hohman said.

Evelyn’s Park Conservancy Park Director Patricia King-Ritter said the event was important because it gave information that parents could use to arm and prepare their children.

“It’s about giving them knowledge that not everybody is nice — there are bad people in our world, “King-Ritter said. “When you give somebody that knowledge and that power, they can then understand and make the right decision to say, ‘No.’”

Hohman said the threat of human trafficking with daughters and sons in the Houston area is very real and that the community has to be mindful, aware and working toward change.

“I get at least two to three calls every week on trying to help someone find their child. They look at their social media, and they see signs of somebody having groomed and recruited them,” Hohman said. “So it’s just something we need to fight together as a community because if we don’t speak for one, I believe we don’t speak for all.”

tracy.maness@hcnonline.com

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