Interview by Jamie Lober
Photo by Relics of Rainbow Photography
Jennifer Hohman is invigorated with fiery passion to heighten awareness and educate Houston families on how they can protect their beloved community from sex trafficking. After learning about four friends whose daughters were being lured and groomed by traffickers online, in our schools and in our churches, she created The Houston 20 Houston Area against Trafficking. The organization includes a group of influential citizens who got together to form a social movement.
What is human trafficking and who is most at risk to be a victim?
Human trafficking is modern day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act and is prevalent in every major city – including Houston. According to the Polaris Project, Texas has the second most reported number of child sex trafficking cases in the United States and Houston is the worst city in the country with the highest number of reported child sex trafficking cases. The most at risk are our most vulnerable children and adults like those in foster care and children who are online and friended by strangers and made to think they are friends.
What are some misconceptions?
The biggest misconception is that most involved are foreign or undocumented immigrants, but that is not the case as most are domestic born. The Department of Homeland Security said that trafficking victims can be any age, race, gender or nationality and can come from any socioeconomic group. They also said it is a myth that human trafficking is only sex trafficking as there is forced labor at places like sweatshops, massage parlors, restaurants and hotels.
How can you start this conversation with your family?
Openly discuss the challenges kids are facing. Make a pact with friends to watch out for each other’s children and practice open communication. Use helpful materials to educate such as www.fightforus.org.
What is being done to combat human trafficking?
Government, law enforcement, nongovernmental organizations and community leaders are collaborating and working together to create prevention through awareness, provide long-term healing solutions and strengthen our laws.
How are teens groomed and recruited into trafficking?
The 6-step process includes befriending, intoxicating, alienating, isolating, desensitizing and capitalizing. You can learn more about each of these steps by visiting www.fightforus.org/what-you-need-to-know. The organization advises to watch for sudden changes in friends, hobbies or hangouts and to never worry about being overprotective.
What are some ways to safeguard your child’s use of technology?
Create a trusting relationship with your child so he has nothing to hide. Have his usernames and passwords; know his friends and understand what they are doing; and track and monitor his phone.
What can Houston families do to learn more about this issue and make a difference?
You can visit www.fightforus.org and ask for a representative from the organization to speak to other parents or at your school or workplace. It is also possible to meet with your legislators and be sure that human trafficking remains on the state’s agenda. HB 403 for local control and increased school trainings is one bill you may want to learn more about.
What do you do if you suspect trafficking, abuse or need help?
Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888)373-7888. They are open 24 hours 7 days a week. Local law enforcement is also a good route to take. You should always make a police report of the incident, find a recent picture of your child, make a list of all known friends and associates and search through his phone and social media history to see if there is any pertinent information.
What are your hopes and goals for the future regarding this cause?
I hope we continue to create massive awareness and stand up for more emergency assessment centers and long-term aftercare facilities for minors and adults. I also hope that as a community we collaborate, get active and combat human trafficking.