LONGVIEW (KYTX) - For many people, human trafficking sounds like a problem that just happens in foreign countries, but the scary truth is that it's happening right here in Texas.
Experts from all over the country came to speak at a human trafficking conference in Longview, hosted by the Women's Center of East Texas. Federal and local experts helped educate East Texans on the growing issue.
Human trafficking is called modern day slavery by many experts.
"There are actually more slaves in the world today than ever in history, and that includes U.S. citizens," says Steven Goff, a national certified counselor out of Houston. He deals with human trafficking victims - usually children.
"We have estimates of at least 300,000 U.S. children at risk for sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking," he says.
He calls it an extreme form of child abuse.
"They are recruited, they are manipulated, they are brainwashed, and they are told to work in sexual oriented businesses, such as strip clubs. Or they put pictures of them on Internet sites like backpage.com and they prostitute them out," Goff says.
It's not just children, but adults too.
Christopher Baughman, a human trafficking detective in Las Vegas, works on cases for victims 18 and up. He wants East Texans to know how huge the problem has become.
"A lot of people have an image in mind that this couldn't happen to my daughter because she's a good student, she plays sports," he says.
However, he says his investigations show those are the exact types of girls being targeted by pimps.
He says holding human trafficking conferences here in East Texas is extremely important because a lot of these pimps are targeting people from small towns.
Goff and Baughman hope East Texans will join the conversation about human trafficking.
"Parents can talk to their kids," Baughman says. "Do you know what trafficking is? Have you ever been approached by anyone who's ever tried to promise you a better life in another city?The sooner we can educate parents and kids, the better we can fight the guys coming here to do this to them."
They eventually hope to prevent a problem threatening adults and children right here in our own communities.
There is a national human trafficking hotline number you can call to file a report, or just learn more. That number is 1 (888) 373-7888.