Unbound Bryan College Station’s efforts to help the Brazos Valley fight against human trafficking are returning to the community with the annual Not in My City event this month.
The free outreach event will take place from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday. Volunteers will go through a brief training at Antioch Community Church in Bryan and then go into the Bryan-College Station area to speak with businesses about human trafficking, the signs to look for and ask them to be a partner with Unbound and put up flyers and tear-off cards with the crisis hotline number.
Unbound Bryan College Station Executive Director Amanda Buenger said there is evidence that people are using the tear-off cards.
In 2019, the 100 volunteers equipped 150 businesses with the knowledge needed to help prevent or intervene in human trafficking situations and gave out 900 resources, she said. This year, their goal is to have 150 volunteers equip 200 businesses and distribute 1,200 resources.
“It educates our businesses. It creates ownership in our community to say ‘Hey, we don’t tolerate this, not in my city.’ And it also unifies our community,” Buenger said. “… It’s unifying, it’s educational and it’s impactful for our community.”
She said she hears people ask if human trafficking is a problem in the Brazos Valley region, and said its location in the Texas triangle in relatively close proximity to Houston, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, San Antonio, Austin and the Interstate 10 corridor make it a heavily trafficked area. The large events, such as Texas A&M football games, the university’s size and the transient nature of the community, along with its location, make it susceptible and vulnerable.
Texas ranks second on the list of calls to the National Human Trafficking hotline and 20% of all trafficking victims will end up in Texas, Buenger said.
Not in My City supports the organization’s efforts to prevent human trafficking through awareness and to provide early intervention to victims, she said. Buenger, a child welfare attorney, started the local chapter of the Waco-based organization in 2018 because she saw the gap in services for the most vulnerable people in the community.
“We know that 75% of exploited youth are trafficked for two or more years before they’re identified,” Buenger said. “Seventy-five percent of them don’t self identify as a victim, and the average age of exploitation starts at 15 — 14, 15 — so we want to try to have earlier intervention for youth who are vulnerable.”
In addition to Not in My City, she said, the organization also provides training to professionals who might come in contact with human trafficking victims, such as medical professionals, teachers and attorneys.
The 2020 Not in My City event was canceled due to the pandemic; however, the organization did not stop its efforts. According to Unbound BCS’ impact report, the chapter equipped 23 businesses, conducted 53 trainings, trained 2,288 community members, youths and professionals and served 18 survivors during 2020.
Buenger said Unbound BCS began its survivor advocacy program two years ago and is the only 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, 365-days-a-year advocate agency in the Brazos Valley for human trafficking survivors with full-time advocates who can respond on scene to crisis situations at any time.
“Since we’ve launched our advocacy program, we’ve served over 40 survivors already, and it’s increasing every year,” she said. “I think the more prevention work that happens, the more people are educated on how to identify them as human trafficking – what it looks like in our very own community, how it’s happening – and we kind of dispel some of the myths about what people think human trafficking should look like.”
Most human trafficking victims, Buenger said, know their trafficker well and are either emotionally attached to them or family, so it is important for people to understand the ways trafficking can happen.
Those who cannot attend Not in My City or who want to get involved further can do so by taking part in a professional, community or youth prevention training or requesting a community training through the Unbound BCS website. The website also lists other volunteer opportunities, and has information about the Dignity Program where local businesses provide their services for free or at a low cost to help child and adult survivors.
“I want to encourage our community to get educated about this issue,” Buenger said, directing people to call Unbound to schedule a training or partner with the organization and support the work. “It is transforming this community. It’s transforming lives. And it’s important work. I think I would just give a charge to the community to really step up and to really recognize that this is happening in our community, and that there is something to be educated about it and to take ownership to do something about it.”
Registration for Not in My City is not required, though encouraged, and people who show up at Antioch Community Church in Bryan on Oct. 16 wanting to participate can still do so without registering. People can register and get more information at unboundbcs.org.
“I think a lot of people want to do something to fight human trafficking, but they may not know what they can do individually,” Buenger said. “… This is just a really simple way that you can do it with your own family to fight human trafficking and make our community a safer place.”