Look Inside A Hidden Human Trafficking Staging Site in Victoria County

Human trafficking has become an ongoing issue here in Victoria over several years from bail outs during traffic stops to deadly immigrant smuggling disasters. So exactly how are human trafficking victims moved through the Crossroads?

Newscenter 25’s Amber Joseph discovers how human trafficking is hidden in plain sight.

Victoria is known as the fatal funnel where illegal immigrants and drugs makes its way through our area headed to Houston. Smugglers are now changing their strategy. Newscenter 25’s Amber Joseph go along with Victoria County deputies inside of one of the biggest staging sites in Victoria County.

At first glance this looks like a normal entrance into the woods but it’s a really a secret location where human trafficking is hidden in plain sight.

“One of the biggest things in our area to look out for is probably areas like this,” Victoria County Deputy, Roy Boyd said.

Known as a staging point. It’s littered with dozens of water jugs, bottles and clothes. All found scattered where traffickerrs victims wait to be picked up by smugglers.

“What we have here is a typical staging point where smugglers drop illegal aliens who are to be picked up by other smugglers and sent to their destinations primarily in Houston to be distributed throughout the United States and Canada,” Boyd said.

Trafficking routes are constantly changing, forcing smugglers to find several staging points across Victoria County.

There are a handful maybe more of these locations, staging points, in Victoria County. So what happens when you discover one of these spots?

Report the location to the Sheriff’s Office immediately

“If it is we’ll take steps to try to catch those individuals that are utilizing those staging points, try to find those people that are dropping off and smuggling these people,” Boyd said.

The more discrete, the more attractive. Rural areas provide the perfect cover to move illegal immigrants through Victoria.

Most of the staging sites are on private land and for that reason VCSO will not release the locations within the county but Newscenter 25’s Amber Joseph was able to go along with deputies to a site that has been active for more than four years.

“Human smuggling operations are quite complex and the routes that they take to get to their destinations vary from day to day in an effort to not get caught by law enforcement,” Boyd said.

While Victoria County deputies haven’t found any immigrants inside this staging site, in 2016 they conducted ten traffic stops resulting in 39 captures and this year, three traffic stops resulted in 21 captures.

But there is another victim of human trafficking, the land owner, who must now begin the clean up because the county has no funding for the cleanup of the sites.

“If you own property and you find that there’s debris in the bushes, there are water bottles scattered around. Let us know at the Sheriff’s Office so we can come out and take a look and see if your area is a staging point,” Boyd said.

Traffickers target poor people in central American countries like El Salvador and Guatemala, promising them a job, money and food. Instead traffickers sell the victims into the human trafficking trade.

Primarily men and women in their 20’s are caught trafficked through Victoria.

“The victims of human trafficking primarily come from Latin America however they can come from other places throughout the world. We have a lot of individuals at one point who came from china that were trafficked into the united states,” Boyd said.

In 2013, a 14 month investigation conducted in three cities including Victoria ended with the breakup of a large scale operation that trafficked women to work as prostitutes in massage parlors.

Two Asian women, from Houston, were suspected of international human trafficking. Both were arrested at the Victoria Foot Spa for alleged prostitution and engaging in organized criminal activity. The owner of the Victoria Foot Spa, Shaoyun Qu, was also arrested in a house in Rockport. A letter was written to one of the girls being kept in that house. In the letter, a mother tells her daughter she understands the situation and writes “I’ll always support you”.

“What we’re facing here is a humanitarian crisis,” Boyd said.

The days of simply hopping the across the border are disappearing. The cartels have organized the flow of all illegal goods across the southern border, from drugs to people.

“What we are involved in is the fight against transnational criminal activity,” Boyd said.

Instead of immigrating to America for a better life, victims are brought here against their will and forced to pay off their trafficker’s debt.

“When they get here they find out that they are not free to leave from the people who have purchased them in the human trafficking trade,” Boyd said.

Immigrants from Central America aren’t the only ones being trafficke. Homeless youth and runaways are prime targets for traffickers.

In 2016, Texas ranked second for most cases reported in the U.S. with 670 cases.

In the human smuggling business, Houston acts as a clearing house where victims are distributed through out the U.S. and Canada.

“If there’s an order for human labor here in Victoria it’s filled out of Houston,” Boyd said.

The number of trafficked people caught in Victoria is on the decline.

“We believe the reason for this is the stance that the current presidential administration has taken on human trafficking and illegal immigration,” Boyd said.

The Victoria Foot Spa owner, Shaoyun Qu, was charged with aggravated promotion of prostitution but the charge was dismissed in January 2015.
The two Asian women who were arrested were deported.

There are a handful of these staging sites in Victoria County and while several have been cleaned by land owners, Deputies say traffickers change routes and hiding locations frequently and advise you to check your property regularly.

FACTS AND RESOURCES:

It’s estimated that about 20.9 million people are currently victims of human trafficking in the world.

About 55% of those people are women and girls. About 22% are minors.

Three Categories of Trafficking: 1.) Sex Trafficking 2.) Forced Labor 3.) Domestic Servitude

Out of cases reported in 2016 in Texas, about 50% were U.S Citizens.

In the U.S, human trafficking cases have been reported in all 50 states.

Texas is ranked 2nd for most cases reported.

The Department of Justice refers to Interstate 10 as the Super Highway for Human Trafficking because of the constant movement of human trafficking victims and survivors along that highway.

The average age of a minor entering into human trafficking 12 to 14 years old.

Ways people fall victim to human trafficking: misleading friendships, online dating/friendships, family arraignments, false job advertisements.

1 in 3 runaways will be approached by a sex trafficker within 48 hours of being on the street.

Mid-Coast Family Services offers shelters, counseling and resources to victims. If you are a victim of human trafficking or know a victim please contact Mid-Coast Hotline at 361-573-4357.

Faith Family Church holds an annual 5K Run called Reason to Run to raise human trafficking awareness.

Smart phone app, called Teen Safe, allows parent to monitor their child’s internet activity.

Faith Family Church has a House of Palms in India that can house about 100 children. Faith Family plan to start a House of Palms Victoria this Fall for pregnant teen girls who are facing homelessness.

Statistics show that 325,000 U.S. are at risk of being exploited. For more education, go to Teen Safe and Polaris Project.

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