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  1. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)
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  3. HSI Houston Participates in Outreach to Educate Stakeholders From Adult Nightclub Industry on Human Trafficking

HSI Houston Participates in Outreach to Educate Stakeholders From Adult Nightclub Industry on Human Trafficking

Release Date: May 31, 2024

HOUSTON — Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston participated in an outreach event May 29 hosted by the Texas Entertainment Association, Club Operators Against Sex Trafficking and the National Association of Club Executives to educate club owners and other stakeholders from the Houston-area adult nightclub industry on how to identify and report suspected human trafficking.

During the event, HSI Houston put on an in-depth presentation for approximately 222 club owners, entertainers, wait staff, bartenders and bouncers highlighting the indicators of human trafficking and how to report suspected instances.

“One of the biggest hurdles that we face in getting members of the public to work with us in our pursuit to combat human trafficking is the stigma that comes with cooperating with federal law enforcement,” said HSI Houston Special Agent in Charge Mark Dawson. “To have responsible club owners and staff willing to work closely with us like this to identify potential trafficking situations goes a long way to help us root out this modern-day form of slavery from our community.”

The unlikely alliance between adult nightclub owners and federal law enforcement began more than a decade ago when Club Operators Against Sex Trafficking founder and president Michael Ocello reached out to HSI for assistance after he was questioned by authorities about a woman in one of his clubs who was suspected of being trafficked. The investigation found no trafficking, but the incident opened his eyes to the problem, and he wanted to be part of the solution.

Since that time, he has continued to work closely with HSI and nongovernmental organizations from around the country to bring human trafficking out of the shadows by educating thousands of stakeholders from the adult nightclub industry and empowering victims to report abuse and access support services. To date, he has helped train more than 22,500 club workers from approximately 250 clubs in more than 30 cities across the United States.

"We are deeply grateful to the professional agents of Homeland Security Investigations,” said Ocello. “Their victim-centered approach, and dedication to educating our industry about the crime of human trafficking, highlights their commitment to accomplishing an important mission.”

Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the United States, generating billions of dollars annually in illicit profits for criminal organizations. Although it’s difficult to get an accurate picture, it’s estimated that anywhere between 400,000 and 1 million people are being trafficked at any given time inside the United States with approximately one-fourth of those victims being underage minors trafficked for sex.

Because trafficking victims are generally hidden in plain sight, HSI often relies on tips from the public to identify human trafficking. Some indicators that can help members of the public identify potential trafficking situations include people who:

  • Are restricted from freedom of movement.
  • Lack control over their finances.
  • Have signs of physical abuse or injury.
  • Lack identifying documents such as a passport or ID.
  • Seem to be under the control of another person.
  • Always seem to be in fear or depressed.
  • Are unfamiliar with the neighborhood where they live or work.
  • Are not allowed to socialize with family and friends.

Not all of these indicators are present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators does not necessarily prove that a person is being trafficked. However, looking for these indicators can provide a good picture of whether someone is a potential victim and, when combined with a follow-up interview by law enforcement, can help accurately determine whether someone is being trafficked.

A key component in HSI’s strategy to combat human trafficking is the use of a victim-centered approach that places the same value on the identification and stabilization of victims, as there is on the criminal investigation and prosecution of human traffickers. In furtherance of this approach, HSI has Victim Assistance Specialists stationed at HSI offices across the country who are professionally trained to recognize the signs of human trafficking and to help connect victims with the resources and services that they need to restore their lives.

Some examples of the services that HSI can help trafficking victims obtain include:

  • Referrals for victim-services and victim resources.
  • Emergency funding for short-term victim needs.
  • Coordination of emergency medical treatment and mental health evaluations.
  • Assistance in requesting temporary immigration benefits that may allow foreign or undocumented human trafficking victims and qualified family members to remain in the U.S. for a certain period of time.

Members of the public who believe they may have encountered human trafficking are asked not to approach the suspected trafficker or victim, but to report the incident to HSI by using the 24/7 toll-free HSI Tipline at 877-4-HSI-TIP.

HSI is the lead federal agency responsible for investigating human trafficking. In fiscal year 2023, HSI arrested 2,610 individuals for human trafficking-related offenses, secured 519 convictions for human trafficking, and rescued or provided assistance to 731 human trafficking victims.

For more news and information on HSI’s efforts to aggressively investigate human trafficking in Southeast Texas, follow us on X, formerly known as Twitter, at @HSIHouston.

Last Updated: 05/31/2024
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