January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and Uber is partnering with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office to host anti-human trafficking information sessions for driver-partners across the state.
The sessions aim to educate driver-partners on how to identify and report human trafficking.
Assistant Attorney General Mallory Myers Vincent works within the Human Trafficking and Transnational/Organized Crime Section. There are an estimated 25 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, according to Myers Vincent. In Texas, there are 79,000 victims of youth and minor sex trafficking at any given time.
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"There’s something called the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Since it was started over 12 years ago, there have been calls from all 50 states. Texas is second in the number of calls, only to California," she said. "Where you have buyers, you have sellers. Where you have people that are willing to exploit other people, you have people are willing to do whatever they can to make a dollar."
On Monday, Vincent spoke to a group of Uber drivers in Fort Worth as part of their informational sessions launched across cities in Texas. The presentation included local cases of human trafficking and red flags drivers should be mindful of.
"So, what about if somebody gets in the back of a vehicle and they’re not dressed appropriately for the weather? Or what about when a third party has set up that ride? That’s something unique, right? Typically, we set up our own rides. We show up and we identify ourselves, so things like that are things that are important for drivers to be looking for," she said.
Vincent said other possible signs included unaccompanied minors who don't have knowledge of where they are going, or look scared or malnourished.
Uber hasteamed up with organizations like ECPAT-USA, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), and The McCain Institute since 2015 to help raise awareness among driver-partners about how to spot and report human trafficking.
Travis Considine, communications manager for Uber in Texas, said drivers can be on the front lines of problem.
"It is a problem that transcends transportation options as well, so we figured that if we can educate drivers as best as possible and help prevent it – and even if one person learns something here tonight that helps save someone’s life, then it will all be worth it," he said.
Hector Campos of Fort Worth has been driving with Uber for more than a year and said he said he has always questioned situations when third parties schedule rides.
"It feels kind of weird with that, because you don't know who you're picking up," Campos said. "You don't know who the person is and if something happens they're never going to know who that person is, because the person I picked up… they didn't call the Uber."
He said he found the statistics of human trafficking in Texas jarring, but eye-opening. Though he said he has not spotted experienced any situations that required attention from police in his time of working of Uber, they are something he will keep in mind for future rides.
"I just remember years ago, when you would hear about trafficking – you would hear about it in other countries," Campos said. "Hearing about it here so close at home, it’s like... wow."
Information sessions have already been held in Austin, San Antonio, Houston and now, Fort Worth. They plan to present in Dallas and Plano this week:
When: Tuesday, January 28, 6:30-7:30pm
Where: 1802 North Lamar Street, Suite 130
When: Wednesday, January 29, 6:30-7:30pm
Where: 2301 North Central Expressway, Suite 145