PHARR, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Identifying the signs of human trafficking is the first step in combating the prevalent issue plaguing our border cities.

That’s why the Pharr Police Department, Refugee Services of Texas, and BCFS Health and Human Services gathered Saturday in Pharr to speak with community members and city staff about how to identify and prevent human trafficking.

Pharr Police Human Trafficking Liaison, Nancy Gonzalez, says, “Anybody can be trafficked. It doesn’t have to be an immigrant. It doesn’t have to be someone from another country; it can be someone from the United States.” 

Signs of human trafficking include physical injuries or malnourishment, victims avoiding eye contact, constantly being supervised by an older individual, responding in seemingly scripted responses or having their trafficker speak for them.

Lizette Pacheco, RGV Director of Refugee Services of Texas, tells Valley Central, “It is a topic that a lot of people don’t want to talk about, but the reality is that it is happening. There are a lot of platforms that individuals are using like for dating, for gaming, and traffickers are using those applications to recruit or to establish relationships.” 

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, more than 82,000 cases of human trafficking have been identified in the U.S. since 2007 – almost 8,000 of those cases are from Texas.

“We would think that human trafficking only happened in bigger cities,” says Pacheco. “We are a border town, so we are seeing it more here in the Rio Grande Valley.” 

Experts say many immigrants who are being smuggled into the country are aware it’s a crime.

However, officials say that is not the case for victims of human trafficking.

Pacheco states, “When an individual is trafficked, they have no control over coming in. They don’t pay to come in, they are forced by someone that is bringing them in to either work or do anything illegal.” 

Pacheco says her organization has helped more than 150 victims of human trafficking in the valley since 2020.

Through these services, victims are provided with case management services and on-site counseling to help them move forward from their situation and trauma.

“There are resources available in our community to provide services to survivors of human trafficking,” Pacheco adds. “There are people out here in the community that are willing to work with them and help them leave that situation.”

If you happen to identify any signs of human trafficking in your community, you can contact the Refugee Services of Texas or your local police.