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Human trafficking in 'high demand' in East Texas

Trafficking survivors nationwide recognize Tyler as a place they've been sold.

TYLER, Texas — A UT Austin study has revealed that there are more than 300,000 people being trafficked in Texas. This includes almost 79,000 minors.

Allie Braden with nonprofit "For the Silent" says Tyler is a national hotspot for human trafficking.

“I met with survivors from all over the country at a conference a couple of years ago.  A lot of the girls would be like, ‘Oh I know Tyler. I’ve been to Tyler.’ Tyler was one of their stops that pimps would go to to make money, which means there is a high demand here,” she said. 

Getting into the business is simple textbook even.

“There are like books and manuals that are out there, you can buy them on Amazon on how to be a pimp, how to manipulate people how to coerce people," Braden said. "Traffickers know you have needs that need to be met and will meet those. It will seem like they're your friend, but then they're going to ask something from you in return.”

"For the Silent" focuses on awareness, prevention and recovery for girls and women who have been roped into the trafficking system. The process doesn’t look the way you might think.

“We're constantly trying to correct the narrative that it's girls who are being snatched up from the mall or like off the street or out of their bedrooms at night," Braden said. 

Sales used to be mostly contained to a website called Backpage, which attorney general Ken Paxton labeled the largest online sex trafficking marketplace in the world. Once that site went dark in 2018, the business didn’t stop but no one knew where to look at first.

“Until we started seeing more ads on dating apps,” Braden said.

Dating websites like Plenty of Fish and Skip the Games are used but it’s spread even further than that. It's everywhere now.

“Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, the DMs," she said. Even chatrooms for video games like Fortnite are used to sell.

“It's a lot harder to see to spot because it's kind of hiding in plain sight,” she explained.

It’s hard but not impossible. Keep an eye out for red-flag phrases like “in town for just a short while” or “this is what I offer.” Above all else, be careful who you and your children engage with online. 

Every year, traffickers in Texas exploit about $600 million from their victims which costs the state more than $6.5 billion.

RELATED: 45 missing children found, 109 human trafficking survivors rescued in Ohio operation

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