Numbers from the Office of the Attorney General suggest there are about 234,000 victims of labor trafficking and about 79,000 victims of youth and minor sex trafficking in Texas at any given time.
To combat the misfortunate locally, the Tarrant County 5Stones Taskforce has launched a billboard campaign that highlights the use of the internet and social media by predators.
Various levels of government and community agencies are behind the task force, formed in 2016 to support the Fort Worth Police Department in its anti-trafficking efforts.
"Most of human trafficking [now] is done on social media through mobile phones," said FWPD Chief Ed Kraus. "That's how the victims are often recruited and that's how the victims are often sold over and over again."
More than 50 local community organizations are in partnership with the taskforce and fighting against human trafficking.
The new billboard campaign is part of the taskforce's "Trafficking Starts Here" initiative, also recently launched in light of January being Human Trafficking Awareness month.
The goal of the new billboard campaign is creating and spreading awareness about human trafficking and giving voice to the victims.
"Sometimes we have people in the justice system that pose no threat to the community, but they are the product of years of torment and victimization," Tarrant County Judge Brent Carr said. "We need to do better. And our community is working very hard to make sure we have a brighter day for people who ended up in some very sad circumstances, frankly."
Child trafficking does occur in the Tarrant County community in a much higher rate than many might have been aware of, said Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn.
"If you are a trafficker, we are coming for you," Waybourn said.
The taskforce conducts several projects throughout the year, such as a Texas Government-partnered long-term mentorship program that assists and provides wrap-around care to high-risk youth and families.
Clear Channel Outdoor, an advertising company headquartered in San Antonio, offered to donate digital billboards for the Trafficking Starts Here campaign. Web design firm Lion’s Share Digital provided website services.