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Provost’s Lecture Series examines human trafficking

When Sandra Spencer first heard about human trafficking in Texas several years ago at a Texas Conference for Women, she was struck by what she heard.

Sandra Spencer

After that presentation, the professor and director of women’s and gender studies at University of North Texas in Denton ended up developing her own course on the topic. Years later, her former students call and ask for advice when they encounter human trafficking.

“People need to understand that this is a problem in Texas,” she said. “So many people think this kind of thing only happens in countries like Cambodia or Thailand, not in the U.S., but it does happen here.”

Spencer will share her knowledge with the Victoria community as part of the University of Houston-Victoria Provost’s Lecture Series. Her free lecture, “Human Trafficking in Texas,” also is sponsored by the Crossroads Progressive Voices and will be from noon to 1 p.m. Oct. 19 in the UHV University North Multi-Purpose Room, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St.

“The UHV Provost’s Lecture Series is intended to bring awareness to issues of social justice,” said Jeffrey Cass, UHV provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Sandra Spencer’s knowledge on human trafficking in Texas is extensive, and I look forward to learning more about how this is impacting our state and what can be done to stop it.”

Jeffrey Cass

Cass’s office heard about Spencer through former UHV Provost Suzanne LaBrecque and the Crossroads Progressive Voices organization, said Margaret Rice, special assistant to the provost and a visiting faculty member. Rice already was interested in the issue of human trafficking after listening to a recent presentation on the topic by members of law enforcement.

“One of the roles of education is to create awareness and broaden our perspective of what’s going on locally, as well as globally,” Rice said. “Educational institutions can help our society by developing citizens who act to create a higher quality of life for everyone, especially for those who are oppressed or taken advantage of.”

Texas is currently No. 1 in the nation for human trafficking, Spencer said. Her presentation will look into some of the reasons the crime is prevalent in the state.

“The conclusion everyone jumps to is that it has to do with our proximity to Mexico and the drug cartels, but that’s not the only factor,” she said. “The problem also includes elements such as transportation, the state’s legal system and even the natural geography. Texas also has many large sporting events, which are just magnets for this sort of thing.”

Margaret Rice

Human trafficking has become so widespread that airline employees are being trained to look for warning signs, Spencer said. Traffickers are using the Internet to find new victims, and many parents are not aware that a preteen or teenager who runs away from home likely will be approached by a trafficker within the first 48 hours.

“People can’t do anything about something they aren’t informed about,” Spencer said. “Members of the community need to know these things. It’s not pleasant to know them, but it’s important that they do. Human trafficking is almost an epidemic in Texas, and it’s affecting our young people.”

Part of Spencer’s presentation will focus on what is being done to identify and deal with the issue. She also plans to discuss legislation and legal reforms the state has made. Even though some of those changes have had unintended consequences, the important thing is that state leaders are working to stop the issue, she said.

Rice is especially looking forward to hearing about possible solutions and actions that communities and even individuals can take to make a difference.

“I hope to leave with some ideas about solutions,” Rice said. “It’s upsetting to realize that there are probably some businesses in South Texas that use slave labor. We all need to become aware of the signs and know when to ask questions and take action.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973, offers courses leading to 70 bachelor’s, master’s and specialist degree programs and concentrations in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.