Billboards donated by media companies have started to show messages along highways in Texas urging people to report potential cases of human trafficking. The campaign, called, "Can you see me?" will appear on more than 300 billboards in 70 cities across the state.
The title of the campaign comes from a message survivor Sophia Strother delivered to the state legislature in March 2019. She said she started by asking the committee, "Can you see" a girl who was sexually abused by her father and grandfather starting at 9 years old?
"Can you now see, at the age of 13, her mother looks at her and decides, consciously, 'I want to use her to secure my drugs and to pay bills?'" Strother said. "Can you see that 13-year-old girl now become currency?"
She said a positive relationship helped her escape four years later. Strother said she hoped her case could show the importance of someone calling the number that appears on billboards.
"Everybody around her looks at her and says, 'Oh, she must be fast,' not understanding every single night when I go home, I'm actually having to deal with a mother that's on drugs. I'm having to deal with a mother who is actually my pimp at this time."
Gov. Greg Abbott's office said a ad campaign in 2020 led to a 30% increase in calls from Texas to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. George Whitmire, who works with the governor's team on child trafficking, said those calls led to 993 cases and identified 1,604 victims.
Whitmire said the previous campaign led to 1,000 billboards being set up across the country.
"Texas is being recognized as a national leader in this fight," he said. "Because of you, we're making progress."
Whitmire said human trafficking has become the fastest-growing criminal enterprise on Earth.
"Just think about that," he said. "That's unacceptable."
If people suspect they have seen human trafficking, they can call the Polaris National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 800-THE-LOST. People can also report signs of trafficking at iwatchtx.org.
Billboards were donated by companies that are members of the Outdoor Advertising Association of Texas.
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