Meeting on common ground
When Hailie Landreth, a senior political science major, talked to a young woman at the Tarrant County Jail this semester, she realized they had more in common than she thought.
“This one girl from jail that I talked to, she was 22,” Landreth said, “and I’m 22.”
But the other woman was incarcerated for prostitution charges.
“It easily could have been me, and by God’s grace, it wasn’t me,” Landreth said. “Now, I can’t imagine not speaking up for girls like her.”
Landreth and senior political science major Ty Bowden are interns for The NET, a ministry-based non-profit that works with the homeless, low-income families and people who have been sexually exploited.
Texas and sexual exploitation
Last year, Texas had the second most number of human trafficking cases reported nationwide, with 452 cases, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
Sex trafficking accounted for 346 of those cases in Texas.
And there are victims of sex trafficking here in Fort Worth.
According to the Tarrant County Reentry Coalition, “Human trafficking is the second most prevalent organized crime activity in the world.”
The graph below shows how many calls the National Human Trafficking Hotline received in 2012 and where in Texas they came from.
Graph courtesy of Human Trafficking in Texas, a study by the League of Women Voters of Texas Education Fund
Houston and El Paso are on the Department of Justice’s list of “most intense human trafficking jurisdictions” in the country, according to the study.
According to the graph, Fort Worth sent 62 calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2012.
The NET and sex trafficking
Landreth works with The NET’s Purchased program and the Tarrant County RISE Prostitution Diversion Program.
These organizations help give women affected by the sex industry a chance to “start fresh,” Landreth said.
The NET and the RISE Program assist them through offering civility classes, giving donations and organizing fun outings like going to the movies.
Building relationships is key for The NET, Landreth said. She is appreciative of the relationships she has made working with them.
“My faith has grown a lot,” Landreth said. “Just in my friendships with the other interns and with the women. I have loved working with them and just how to better serve our city. What a college student looks like doing that has been really cool. I just feel like I’ve grown personally a lot more than I ever imagined I would in the span of three months.”
Landreth began interning with The NET in January.
She also visits women in the Tarrant County Jail who have been impacted by the sex industry.
And she is determined to fight for these women.
“It makes me fired up and angry, like righteously angry, that this would happen to anyone,” Landreth said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. I can’t imagine not fighting for this.”
Sex trafficking: A man’s perspective
Bowden combats sexual exploitation by informing young men about the issue.
He is The NET’s MASE (Men Against Sexual Exploitation) director.
He works specifically with college-aged men, teaching them how to fight against sex trafficking in Fort Worth.
“Getting to see 20-to-25-year-old guys who, when things click for them, when they realize, ‘I can do something about this,’ when they feel empowered to do something, that’s absolutely the coolest part of my job,” Bowden said.
With The NET, Bowden hosted a six-week class in summer 2014 with college-aged men.
Bowden told the young men how they could combat the sex industry in their everyday lives.
“Hearing them come back with a story like, ‘Hey man, my buddy said the word “pimp” the other day, and I taught him how that’s not okay because our culture glorifies that, and really that’s just a bad thing. And I told him that, and it was awesome,’” Bowden said.
How TCU can get involved
Both seniors said that fighting sexual exploitation is easier than students might think. It starts with knowing what factors contribute to sex trafficking.
One of these factors is pornography.
“To realize things like pornography, things like prostitution – those are trafficking, and they are directly linked,” Landreth said. “Pornography’s huge on college campuses, and if we’re not encouraging people to talk about that, then we’ll never know.”
Pornography, Bowden said, fuels the fire for sexual exploitation.
“I know that this is a taboo subject that people don’t like to bring up,” Bowden said, “but watching pornography is a huge driver of the sex industry. That’s one of the first things that we teach guys is how making the link between pornography being made and women being raped and sex trafficked – there’s a huge correlation there.”
There are several organizations where students can volunteer in Fort Worth, both secular and non-secular, such as: The NET, Traffick911, Catholic Charities, ACH Child and Family Services and The Hearts Foundation, Inc.
A call to action
Bowden and Landreth urge students to get involved to end sexual exploitation. They said this battle wasn’t too big for students to tackle.
“I feel like college students often feel like they can’t relate,” Landreth said. “That it’s too big and it’s too dark. I’m an upper-middle class white girl, what can I possibly say to a woman who’s been abused all of her life?
“And I would say that’s a lie. You have the power to have a huge impact in Fort Worth and abroad. I think that our voices are louder than we think. And our actions are bigger than we think,” Landreth said.
Bowden said that sexually exploited people still have personal worth, and this worth cannot be ignored.
“Every person has intrinsic value and worth as a human being,” Bowden said, “and the issue of human trafficking dehumanize women and children who are being trafficked.”
“If TCU students are aware of this, I think that the kind of people that go here will really want to get involved and stand up and say, ‘This isn’t okay. Everybody deserves to be loved and cherished no matter what has happened or where they’ve been.’”