Group called 'Jesus Said Love' spreads awareness during Human Trafficking Prevention month

human trafficking
Posted at 5:09 PM, Jan 16, 2023

There are roughly 30 million people being trafficked at any given time, according to a study by the Internation Labor Organization.

That number had gone up by 12% since 2016.

Human trafficking is a global problem. In Central Texas, there are local groups like 'Jesus Said Love' working to try and stop it.

Emily Mills founded the Waco, Texas-based group in 2004.

"We'd go into the clubs to the women who were on the front lines of selling sex to customers and we would engage them with simple gift bags," she recalled.

"Our job was never to fix, control or save, but simply live out the reality that we are all loved."

What started as simply spreading love, lead to finding something much more serious.

"What we encountered was this reality that some women who were there, their money was being controlled by a third party," Mills said.

"Their boyfriend was demanding they work at the club in order to have a place to sleep at night."

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. It was a situation many of the women mills encountered were facing.

"What we didn't know then that we know now is that we'd be fighting the issues such as human trafficking, prostitution, and all of the things attached to those issues," Mills said.

"It's definitely something people need to be mindful of because it does happen, and it happens in our area as well," Kim Clark with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said.

Each situation can look different and it's not always how you would expect.

Movies often depict trafficking as children being kidnapped and sold by strangers.

According to information by the Human Trafficking Hotline, nearly 90% of victims are recruited by people they know.

33% are trafficked by family members, 28% by an intimate partner, and 22% by an employer.

According to that hotline, Texas has the ninth-highest rate of trafficking in the country.

"We see it in every community, every socioeconomic bracket," Mark Wilson with the Department of Family and Protective Services said.

"No one is immune and everyone has to keep their eyes open because that's the only way we're going to get ahead of this."

"The thing I am struck by over and over again in this work is the matter of that personal relationship," Mills said.

While anyone can fall victim to trafficking, people without a strong support system around them are among the most vulnerable.

"Anyone who doesn't have that healthy attached safe family of origin is going to be more at risk," Mills said.

"However, you can have a perfect kid making perfect straight as on the swim team and if they don't feel attached to their well-off family, they can be lured away easily as well."

Groups like 'Jesus Said Love' and their company Lovely are aimed at helping survivors of human trafficking get back on their feet.

"This building is really an opportunity to our access program, which is job training," Mills said.

"Lovely provides livable wage jobs and gives micro-loans to survivors, then we provide long-term direct services to survivors that we meet."

She said while they can help people rebuild their lives, it's on everyone to help put an end to trafficking in the area.

"I think that we learned early on that we weren't going to solve the issue of human trafficking, sex buying, prostitution," Mills said.

"We weren't going to solve that on our own."

There are a few signs you can look for if you suspect someone might be a victim of human trafficking.

That includes not having control over their own money, young people spending a lot of time with older men, unexplained cuts and bruises and tattoos or branding of ownership.

It's estimated roughly 22% of labor trafficking victims are female and 48% are male.

79% of sex trafficking victims are female and about 7% are male.

Of that, at least 30% are estimated to first be exploited as a minor.

If you suspect someone might be a trafficking victim, you're asked to not approach them.

This story was originally published by KXXV in Waco, Texas.