LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry and one of the fastest growing crimes in the world. But what exactly is human trafficking? It's a modern day form of slavery where victims are forced into sex.
There is a misconception that human trafficking is moving from one place to another and that it only occurs near the border. The reality is that it happens all over and the crime is growing here in Lubbock.
NewsChannel 11 investigated the issue further and learned that there is a local task force in the works. They have implemented a community needs assessment, to see what kind of assistance is needed in Lubbock. It's comprised of numerous local and federal agencies, dedicated to helping victims of sex trafficking.
The task force is made up of the Lubbock Rape Crisis Center, Forensic Nurse Staffing of West Texas, Children's Advocacy Center, the Criminal District Attorney's office, the City Attorney's office, Lubbock Police Department, Lubbock, Hockley and Terry County Sheriff's Departments, Lubbock County Juvenile Justice Center, Rep. Frullo's office, Susie Hance (TTU & Texas NCMEC), FBI, U.S. Probations office, U.S. Assistant Attorney's office, Cochran County Probation, ICE, Junior League of Lubbock Lubbock & Crosby County Adult supervision; Sex Offender Probation Officer and of course, concerned citizens. These agencies started to take notice after Rep. John Frullo and other lawmakers shed light on the issue at the legislative level.
"One of every five people in human trafficking are in Texas at some point," Rep.Frullo said. "The perpetrator is the same person as the victim in these crimes," Frullo explained, "so we really don't have a good system of identifying what is happening."
NewsChannel 11 learned that children are being sold for sex here in the South Plains.
Peggy Galanos leads a prayer group where people focus their prayers to help victims of sex trafficking. Galanos is also a member of the task force and said some local parents have sold their children for "survival sex."
"There are girls in Lubbock who have been sold," Galanos said. "I know of a situation of where a mom sold her daughter for dates to put food on the table. That is a form of trafficking."
In 2010, Megan Lee Norman and Chanze Pringler were arrested at the Overton hotel. Norman was charged with child pornography and prostitution. KCBD NewsChannel 11 reached out to Norman in prison. We told her about our investigation and how we wanted to share her story.
Norman said she got into the trade while underage. "Most are subjected into sex slavery before they are of age," said Norman. "I was 15."
The task force is working to tackle the issue from all angles. Former Hockley County Detective, Cassondra Smith, now works as a Case Manager with the Rural Intervention and Outreach Project.
Smith said, "The very nature of minor domestic sex trafficking is so complex, from identification to prosecution, that there has to be a huge support system in place for the victims for them to follow through with the process and put an end to their victimization."
That's one of the many issues that the task force is looking to fix. Right now, there are an estimated 300,000 victims in the United States, yet only 1,000 beds for victims. If the needs assessment determines that a safe house would be beneficial, task force members are looking to build something similar to the Freedom Place in Houston.
Rep. Frullo agrees. "Of course we need a place where they can go, a safe house that they can be safe and taken out of the environment," Frullo said. "A lot of the people end up in these situations because that is all they have to go to; they may be runaways."
Norman was one of those runaways. She says she was in an abusive relationship and when she tried to get out of the situation, her life was threatened. "He would always tell me that if I left him, that he would kill me," Norman said.
Sexual assault nurse examiner Donna Neel, R.N. is also a member of the task force. She said "quite often they identify with their pimp as a boyfriend, so they tend to not disclose that they are a victim of human trafficking."
Sometimes teens can become victims of human trafficking just by surfing the internet. Officials advise parents to monitor their children's social media interaction.
"They're befriended by a trafficker and of course, that trafficker encourages them," said Neel. "Home is not good, they often run away and within 48 hours they're preyed upon by these traffickers."
The task force is still working to figure out what the local needs are here in the South Plains.
Be sure to tune in at 10 p.m. Thursday for part 2.