Raising Awareness of Trafficking in Austin, Texas

The following blog post comes to us from Adriel Vigo, founder of the Austin Free Project chapter, who has been working individually and with the larger chapter to raise awareness of trafficking in the Austin area and beyond. Make sure to check out the flier that the chapter distributed to local businesses and restaurants.

My name is Adriel Vigo, founder and president of the Austin Free Project. The AFP was founded to bring awareness to the growing issue of human trafficking; and involve the community in the battle against it. At its peak, AFP was a partnership of two universities and one community college with members including students of University of Texas, Texas State, and Austin Community College. AFP saw its beginning by creating awareness campaigns throughout college campuses in the Austin area. This was a great way to inform and involve the public of how human trafficking was very much alive and well in our own city. Soon after, we partnered with Purpose Jewelry to begin a fundraising campaign. Purpose Jewelry is an organization concentrating on empowering victims of human trafficking by educating and rehabilitating. Once rescued, the women are given safe places to live and are taught valuable, enriching skills such as jewelry making. Purpose jewelry then sends you the jewelry to sell, where the profits are sent back to the women themselves to further their rehabilitation! We held two different trunk shows with Austin Catalyst, a youth group assisting the 16-24 ages in the Austin Area. At these shows we showcased the jewelry; but were also given about ten minutes to speak to the audience about what human trafficking was, and raise more awareness about the topic to a young audience. Following through the next months we concentrated on awareness campaigns by passing out fliers to local businesses and restaurants, concentrating specifically on the service industry. These fliers would have details on signs on how to recognize human trafficking (victim or trafficker). Upon giving these fliers out to businesses we would take some time to go over what human trafficking is and how to recognize the signs. We would often concentrate on businesses and restaurants located near massage parlors, hotels and other potential hot spots for human trafficking. At this point, AFP went on a brief hiatus, but I continued to work with local businesses (especially hotels) human trafficking prevention. I was often shocked at the lack of training hotel clerks had to recognize the signs of human trafficking; there were so many red flags for human trafficking that were clear to the trained eye. At this point I felt it necessary to launch an awareness campaign for the hotel industry. In response, I created a human trafficking training program specifically geared towards the hotel industry and sex slavery. The training attempts to erase many stereotypes of human trafficking victims, along with stereotypes of traffickers themselves. I tried to bring attention to different technological aspects (backpage, review sites) many may not be aware of, and how traffickers use this to their advantage. The training consists of a PowerPoint, with the first part going over the basics of human trafficking, definitions, terms, and how it affects us currently in our country. The second part goes over signs to look for as a doorman, desk clerk, concierge and even housekeeping. The third and final part is a real-life example of an alleged human trafficking case investigated in Central Texas. In this example, I go over the red flags that could have been seen starting with the online advertisement, check in, and finally signs the hotel clerk could have looked for. As of now 75 hotels have accepted our training program to be submitted! Many of the managers expressed excitement in training their staff to recognize the signs of human trafficking to join the cause. We live in a time where we have a myriad of resources at our disposal to raise awareness to the growing cancer of human trafficking. Social media, grassroots organizing, and a growing passionate generation makes it easier than ever to spread our message. Through solidarity we can finally bring awareness and end to the cancer of human trafficking. Together we can be a voice for those it has been taken from; and give back freedom to those it always belonged to.