HOUSTON, Texas - Houston has a problem, and it's a big one: human trafficking. In recent weeks law enforcement agencies have busted sex trafficking networks and arrested dozens of Johns.
"I believe Houston has become the second largest hub for human trafficking", said Judge Maria T. Jackson, presiding judge of the 339th State District Court. "Cases of human trafficking come in multiple forms: it comes in the forms of prostitution, theft, we sometimes have the pimps here for situation of domestic abuse."
Despite the gravity of the situation, it seems like many people still don't realize that anybody can become a victim of sex trafficking, regardless of social class, education, race or gender.
"It is very easy to be tricked and to be brainwashed into thinking that somebody cares about you", explained Kathryn Griffin. She leads the "We've been there, done that" program at the Harris County Sheriff's office. Griffin helps sex trafficking victims break free and build a new life.
"I started getting into drugs and that's when I became a part of the sex trafficking", expressed Ashley Pulverenti. "Now I want to go back to college and I'm planning on getting my life back together."
Griffin says she can relate to the trauma these women and men have experienced because she too has been there and done that. "I'm a sex trafficking survivor," she emphasized.
Victims get a chance to be with peers who have been through the same things that they've been through.
"Ever since the age of 14 I was exploited by drug lords", recalls Nadia Escobar. "To me it was just normal to be around men and be used for my body, to be used for drugs, to be used as an object of no value."
But with the Super Bowl coming to town in 2017, women rights organizations say human trafficking is going to be worse.
"I want to give a message to all of the pimps and the traffickers", Griffin warns: "We have our eyes out, we have our teams out and we have our rescue groups out. You're not gonna be able to get away with that, and bring that craziness into our town."
New efforts to identify cases of human trafficking, help the victims and put culprits behind bars are underway.
"I want to emphasize first and foremost that we're taking a 365-day year approach to human trafficking and we want to take a long term strategy to address this systematically", declared Minal Patel Davis, Special Advisor to the Mayor of Houston on Human Trafficking.
Patel Davis and Griffin recently shared the stage at an event organized by the National Council of Jewish Women. The advisor talked about the responsibilities and goals of her office: "To increase tip reporting, increase awareness of the crime, increase victim identification through direct outreach and train key strategic city departments and industries."
But above all, she should never forget the human face of this horror. "My hope is to stay straight and help the other women that are still suffering", cried Letice Bigsby, a participant of Griffin's program.
Sometimes we choose to look the other way. But they need us here.