Texas ranks second in the U.S. for the highest number of trafficking victims and it's a crisis that isn't getting enough attention, according to New Friends New Life, a Dallas-based non profit.
That was the theme of this year's New Friends, New Life luncheon. The non-profit has been working tirelessly to end human trafficking. Four-hundred teenagers in the Dallas area are trafficked each and every day. A statistic that stunned the luncheon audience of nearly 1,000, but a statistic guest speaker of which Jada Pinkett Smith is very familiar.
"There are a lot of young girls that don’t make it. I know some," Pinkett Smith said as she fought back tears. "This is an epidemic in our country."
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NBC 5's Laura Harris moderated the discussion with the actress, producer, director, activist and humanitarian, who has been a long-time advocate for sex trafficking survivors. She's helped shed a light on the issue here in the U.S., specifically through a 2014 documentary that looks at child sex trafficking in Atlanta.
"My daughter Willow was actually the one who told me about sex trafficking. She was only 11 at the time. I didn't even believe it," Pinkett Smith said.
She gave an in-depth account of her experience during the making of the 2014 documentary.
"These were young girls from all different kinds of backgrounds. I could be trafficked. Willow could be trafficked. Anyone of our daughters, sons, sisters, could be trafficked. And I was like, 'This is an issue that we need to be educated about in this country and have understanding of why this is happening and why this is happening.'" So, that’s how I got involved."
"Trafficking is a sophisticated crime and it's getting more sophisticated every day. You have to know who your children are communicating with online. Not just girls, but these young boys too,” Pinkett Smith said.
The more than 30-minute conversation was a candid, but important one.
She also admitted, she too, could have been a victim.
"We are all vulnerable and I think about myself, 11-years-old, 12-years-old. I was running the streets. My mother was a nurse. She was working from 7:00 in the evening to 7:00 in the morning. I mean, I was in the streets. A loner. Alone. A young girl and where I come from in Baltimore, those streets have a whole lot of wolves. I could have gotten scooped up and led to a situation very easily to me being trafficked.”
Pinkett Smith ended the conversation with a call to action.
"Donate to groups like New Friends New Life. Donate clothes to these places for people to start a new life. Donate your time. Get educated," Pinkett Smith said.
New Friends New Life is a safe place for survivors to restore their lives and their souls. The non-profit was started 1998 by a women’s committee from a Dallas area church that began helping a woman who was looking to get out of exotic dancing. The committee offered financial assistance and access to other services. As a result, more and more women who wanted to leave sex trafficking began to seek services.
New Friends New Life now offers a comprehensive program to more than 1,200 formerly trafficked teens, women and their children each year.
New Friends New Life’s mission works to restore and empower teen girls, women and their children who have been trafficked or exploited with many programs such as a drop in Youth Resource Center that serves trafficked and high-risk teen girls, an outreach effort specifically toward boys and men, called “manKINDness curriculum” and a comprehensive women’s program that offers case management, counseling and economic empowerment.