At any given time in Texas, thousands of girls are being sold for sex. According to the University of Texas, there are 79,000 girls being sold. It’s a problem that needs to stop, and the state is hoping to do just that.
CBS19 spoke with the Texas Attorney General’s Office about the problem.
Kirsta Melton leads its human trafficking unit. She said the thought of American girls being sold for sex is unfathomable to many, but it’s time the state faces the facts.
"We have people that are willing to buy and sell children for sex, who view them as a couch, or an iPod, or a bike,” Melton said.
Melton said while most people think trafficking involves traveling, it can happen anywhere.
“American citizens, selling American children for sex,” she said.
This probably comes as no surprise, but there is a demand for sex in the U.S., and where there is a demand, there is trafficking.
While the buyers come from different economic backgrounds, races, and ages, Melton said there’s one thing that’s typically always the same – they’re typically men.
Melton believes the demand comes from a normalization of buying sex.
"Twenty years ago, if you wanted to purchase pornography, it was going to be behind a brown wrapper in your 7-11. Now, you can get it on your phone,” she said.
While trafficking is happening more often than you think, researchers didn’t have the numbers to back that up until now.
"We wanted to come up with that number. That total number. That broad look,” said Dixie Hairston, a researcher at the University of Texas School of Social Work.
Her goal was to come up with a credible number of potential victims in the state of Texas.
The study found that at any given time in the state, there are 79,000 girls being sold for sex. They defined a girl as anyone under the age of 25.
She said someone that is 25 may be considered an adult victim of sex trafficking, but they have been experiencing victimization since they were teenagers. Oftentimes, much younger than that.
Melton said most girls are being sold at as young as 15.
“Many of our kids are growing up with the idea that their usefulness – their worth – sits in their sexuality,” Melton said.
To come up with that number, researchers at the University of Texas made a list of trafficking cases in Texas reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
They also spoke with victims and looked at criminal justice data from across the state.
“We went out in the community. We talked to service providers,” Hairston said.
Getting that number is just the beginning.
Researchers want to take a deep dive into communities like Harris county, Lubbock county and the Rio Grande Valley.
While both women agree the numbers aren’t new, they said victims are coming forward, making it easier to keep up with the demand.
“We have had people willing to purchase sex, and willing to purchase sex from children for a very long time,” Melton said. “It hasn’t been called out for what it is, which is modern day slavery.”