On March 19, 2014, five men were charged with holding 115 people captive in a house in Houston. The men were smuggling the victims into the United States, but instead of taking them to their desired locations, they trapped them in the 1300 square foot house and asked their family members for ransom. The captors used guns and threats to hold the victims hostage and stripped them of their shoes and clothing to keep them from escaping. Some of the victims were being kicked and beaten, and many of the women were groped.
Police found the victims when they received a tip from a woman who said that she paid the men $15,000 to have her daughter and two small grandchildren delivered to Chicago but was then ordered to pay another $13,000 or they would “disappear.” The police had the house under surveillance when they stopped a car coming out of the house for a traffic stop. There was a gun in the car which allowed the police to detain the men and check the house. The doors were locked with dead bolts, and the windows were covered with plywood. The police found 99 males and 16 females, one of which was pregnant, sitting on each others’ laps and living in filth. Many of the hostages had been living in the house for two weeks, sharing one toilet and with no hot water. For more on the article and a video by Fox News, click here.
What we need to think about is that it would be very easy for these men to turn this operation into a trafficking situation. Many of the victims were from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. If their families were not able to pay the ransom amount, what might the captors have turned to next? This is how some people find themselves involved in labor or sex trafficking. Many foreign national victims of trafficking do not know the laws in the United States or may even feel they cannot leave their situation because they do not know anyone besides their captors. Their fear and lack of knowledge of our legal system often keeps them by their trafficker’s side, even if they would like to get away. There is also the fear of being deported at stake because many of them have gone through a great deal in order to even get across the U.S. borders and do not want to go back to the life they came from. Traffickers often instill false notions of what may happen to their victims if they are to escape from their captors. Luckily, in this case, law enforcement was able to mitigate the situation before it got any worse.
–Jamie (Stop-It Intern)