On most any given Wednesday evening, Rick Nixon can be found walking with others along Bissonnet Street in some of the roughest parts of Houston.
“Bissonnet’s like a microcosm of Houston,” Nixon said.
The parts he walks are notorious for drugs and prostitution. He and others like him aren’t there for illicit purposes. They walk and they pray and they try to help those caught up in the sex trade to escape. It’s just one small way the Sugar Land man can help make a difference for those tangled in the web of human trafficking.
“An enormous amount of revenue is generated by human trafficking,” he said.
According to experts, Houston is a major hotbed of human trafficking in the United States and one of the most prominent areas is just north of the intersection of Highway 59 and Beltway 8. The proximity of the problem isn’t lost on Charles Jessup, the mayor of Meadows Place, a one-square-mile community bordering the troubled area.
“We know it’s expanding down into Fort Bend County,” Jessup said.
Like most middle class suburbanites in Fort Bend County, Jessup was unaware of the darkness and human suffering encroaching on his community. He recently learned about the Freedom Church Alliance and its efforts to combat human trafficking. The alliance formed in 2013 and currently has 15 churches and 20 nonprofit organizations collaborating in an effort to rescue victims and bring an end to human trafficking in Houston. Nixon is a member of one of two Sugar Land churches that are part of the alliance. He is a member of Sugar Creek Baptist Church. The other is Sugar Land First United Methodist Church.
Recently, representatives from both churches met at Meadows Place City Hall to talk about their efforts to fight back against human trafficking. Along with Nixon were Jeremy Scott and Dawn Rigsby of Sugar Creek Baptist and Jimmy Fenwick of Sugar Land FUMC.
“This leverages all of those organizations,” Fenwick said. “We’re all in this together. As a collective, we all have to do this together.”
One of their goals is to help average citizens get involved in the effort to stop human trafficking. Their primary tool is a GoBox, a small box filled with information, a video, a music CD, a GoBag, and numerous other items that people can use to help victims escape slavery.
“It’s a toolkit we use to help mobilize people to be a part of the solution,” Scott said.
What is human trafficking?
In order to be a part of the solution, people first need to know what human trafficking is. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery. Victims of human trafficking are subjected to force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. Victims are young children, teenagers, men and women.”
Although a high percentage of human trafficking slaves serve in the sex trade, not all do. Many are forced into labor in various industries, especially in restaurant, manufacturing, mining, and construction industries. The Freedom Church Alliance website explains that not all prostitutes are victims of sex trafficking, but many are. The victims are usually young girls under the age of 18.
“The common age is 14 to 16,” Jessup said. “That to me is terrifying.”
One of the complexities of the issue is age. At 18, women can be charged with prostitution even though many women over the age of 18 are victims of sex trafficking.
“These girls shouldn’t be busted for prostitution, they need to be taken in and moved to victimization and handed off not into the legal system but into the health system,” Jessup said.
It was estimated in 2015 that labor trafficking alone generated $150 billion worldwide. That doesn’t include sex trafficking.
“More money is made on this than all the sports teams make,” Rigsby said.
She said it’s highly profitable for the pimps and slave owners.
“Drug dealers are going from drugs to girls because they can use them over and over,” Rigsby said.
How to help
Like any industry, human trafficking follows the laws of supply and demand. The Freedom Church Alliance strives to attack the problem at both ends. One of the primary concerns for those in the alliance is for the safety of all involved.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, “The safety of the public as well as the victim is paramount. Do not attempt to confront a suspected trafficker directly or alert a victim to any suspicions. It is up to law enforcement to investigate suspected cases of human trafficking.”
“I can’t go in and rescue those girls,” Fenwick said.
“Only professionals can go in and do the stings,” Rigsby added.
Nixon said none of the street walkers or those manning prayer stations is put in harm’s way. By visibility alone they can help deter activity. He also noted that not everyone who wants to help has to come out and man a station or walk a street. The GoBoxes provide many avenues for people to help.
GoBox and GoBag
Prayer warriors walking the streets and manning stations are just one of many ways people can help combat human trafficking. Nixon said people can help by utilizing the resources in the GoBoxes. Each GoBox is filled with literature and guides that help people connect with different agencies in the alliance. They also contain a GoBag. The bags are to be filled with specific clothing and toiletries and are used by law enforcement to help those escaping their captors. The GoBags were made in conjunction with the FBI and are given to the girls by agents who rescue them.
“When they … put on new clothes, it’s the first step in their restoration,” Jessup said. “They feel like normal.”
“They start to become themselves again,” Fenwick added.
“These women that escape, basically they’re escaping slavery,” Scott said.
The GoBoxes contain an enormous amount of information and it can be overwhelming to take it all in at once. That’s why the Freedom Church Alliance holds weekly classes. The GoBox class is hosted by Sugar Land First United Methodist Church and Sugar Creek Baptist Church in partnership with the Freedom Church Alliance each Monday from 6:30-8 p.m. in the event room at Gringo’s Mexican Kitchen, 12330 Southwest Freeway, Stafford.
Stop watching pornography
Not all girls forced into sex trafficking are used as prostitutes. Some are forced into pornography.
“We do know there is a true problem with pornography addiction,” Fenwick said.
“When you press the button for pornography, you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes,” Rigsby said.
One of the partner agencies in the alliance is Love People Not Pixels. It’s an anti-porn program aimed at rescuing girls from sex trafficking and the sex industry. An emphasis is placed on stopping the demand.
Learn more, do more
To learn more about the fight against human trafficking and the Freedom Church Alliance, visit www.freedomchurchalliance.org or attend a GoBox meeting Monday nights at Gringos. Members of religious organizations can also ask their leaders about getting their congregations involved.