A series of billboards are going up across Texas encouraging victims of sex trafficking and those who suspect it is taking place to report it.
The statewide awareness campaign unveiled one of the billboards during a news conference Wednesday in Tyler.
The billboard at 1918 E. Front St. shows a woman depicted as a victim of sex trafficking looking out a window. It carries the message: “Can You See Me?” and encourages people who suspect sex trafficking to call 888-373-7888.
When someone calls the number, the report will be investigated by a law officer, said Andrea Sparks, the governor’s Child Sex Trafficking Team director.
An estimated 350,000 people in Texas are currently or have been exploited through human trafficking in Texas according to one study, Sparks said.
The new campaign will help draw attention to the ongoing problem, she said.
The campaign is being coordinated by the global anti-human trafficking organization A21, in partnership with the Outdoor Advertising Association of Texas and Texas first lady Cecilia Abbott.
Sparks said the billboards will be displayed in 70 Texas cities and are expected to be seen by tens of millions of commuters. The billboard campaign will continue until October 2020.
“This statewide anti-trafficking awareness campaign is one we hope will be replicated by other states across the U.S. and the world,” Christian Elliot, global development director for A21, said in a prepared statement.
“We know this global campaign translates to real impact on the ground wherever it runs, and we’ve seen spikes in hotline activity and victims identified and assisted as a direct result.”
Don Noyes, vice president of Lamar Advertising, one of the campaign’s local partners, told those at the news conference that the billboards will help “bring light to a problem that has been plaguing this state far too long.”
The effort will help combat a “horrible crime plaguing this state,” he said.
Sparks said that people likely have encountered someone victimized by human trafficking.
“Do they seem to be under the control of someone else? ... Do they seem afraid?” she said of signs to look for in sex trafficking.
She said the campaign also can be beneficial by providing victims a way to reach out for help.