This year marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery, yet there are slaves in the United States -- men, women, boys and girls.The Texas Young Lawyers Association this week released our latest public service project, Slavery Out of the Shadows: Spotlight on Human Trafficking, to bring public awareness to a critical and little understood issue.Slavery Out of the Shadows shares Debbie's story: When Debbie was six, her mother first injected her with heroin -- to numb the pain the girl would feel when her mother sold her to men for sex in exchange for drugs. Debbie got pregnant and gave birth at age 11, then had a second child at 13. This did not happen in a foreign country, but in Texas.As a 10-year-old in California, "T" met a man who promised to take care of her. But for the next seven years, she was forced to sell herself on the streets and was subjected to threats, torture and manipulation. Now 23, "T" escaped her former life thanks to a court-appointed advocate and others who cared.As a society, we must prevent others from suffering the same fate as Debbie and "T." We share responsibility in caring for those who are vulnerable and preventing injustice to the best of our ability.One of my priorities this year as president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association -- a department of the State Bar of Texas -- is to bring public awareness to the horrific crime of human trafficking and what we can do about it.The issue received much attention at the American Bar Association's midyear meeting this week in Dallas.Human trafficking is defined under Texas law as transporting, enticing, recruiting, harboring, providing or otherwise obtaining another person by any means with the intent that the person engage in forced labor or services -- including sex trafficking -- and forced prostitution or pornography.Traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits annually by victimizing millions of people around the world. Human trafficking is not just an international problem -- it is happening across the United States, including in Texas.According to the U.S. State Department, 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, and at least 100,000 children are sexually exploited every year in the United States. In Texas, 80 percent of human trafficking cases involve sexual exploitation of children.In 2003, Texas became one of the first states to criminalize human trafficking. The Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force, created by the Legislature, reported in 2011 that runaway minors and homeless youths face the greatest risk of falling victim to human traffickers.It is estimated that one out of every three children who run away gets lured into sex trafficking within 48 hours of leaving home. The average age of entry into sex trafficking is 12 to 13.These children are often escaping abusive or disrupted homes and are then subjected to psychological and physical abuse by traffickers. Traffickers manipulate and employ force, coercion and fraud to control their victims.TYLA has partnered with community and victim advocacy organizations, educators, lawyers who are prosecuting such cases and others to raise awareness about human trafficking and ensure that victims get the services they need.Debbie and "T" are no longer victims, but survivors. Together, let's put a stop to modern-day slavery.C.E. Rhodes, of Baker Hughes, Inc. in Houston, is president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association.
Watch Slavery Out of the Shadows at tyla.org.