Even though the guest speaker from the Harris County Attorney’s Office, scheduled to address human trafficking, canceled unexpectedly, participants at the March 21 Kingwood Positive Interaction Program (PIP) were not disappointed. Denise Mears, a Kingwood resident, had come to the meeting to hear the speaker because of the subject. Mears is an active volunteer in Free the Captives, an anti-human trafficking organization. She volunteered and delivered, without advance notice, a compelling and informative presentation on the tragedy and challenge of human trafficking.
Mears explained that she became interested in human trafficking issues recently and with her children now older she had more time to become involved. What she learned really opened her eyes to the magnitude of the problem.
“According to international labor organizations, there are approximately 20.9 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. It is a $150-million industry nationwide and an estimated one out of five runaways in 2005 were thought to be victims of sex trafficking,” she said.
Mears brought home to Houston the impact of those statistics when she explained that in 2014, Houston ranked number one among U.S. cities believed to have the most victims of human trafficking. That statistic came from the numbers reported on the total calls made to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Among states, Texas ranks second with California first.
“The average age of a girl being trafficked is between the ages of 12 and 14 years old,” Mears said, and pointed out that her own daughter is in that age range and is in the seventh grade. “To hear these stories is truly heartbreaking.”
Mears said that Free the Captives is a faith-based, anti-human trafficking 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in Houston. It has many ways to help with the fight against human trafficking. They help rescue trafficked teenagers by working with law enforcement agencies. Its victims program includes services such as monitoring, tutoring, group activities, shelter and material assistance. They have a jobs program that employs victims to provide them with much needed income and job and life skills.
“Last year we were forced to turn girls away from our job programs because we did not have enough physical space to accommodate them,” Mears said. She explained that due to the anonymity that is required to protect these girls while they are in the programs, they have been working out of a variety of small locations, mostly churches.
“We are currently working toward a new building, one that we can own and would be large enough that no girl can be turned away. Our building campaign has raised half of what we need,” Mears said. She explained that in the meantime, Free the Captives has a larger office space donated by a benefactor along with a refrigerator.
Mears described the donated space and what will be done with it.
“You know, we’re going to paint. You have almost 5,000 square feet in different colors of blue. We’re going to make that space totally girlie for them, so they have a sense of permanency. It’s going to be theirs,” she said, and pointed out that this will be the first time ever that many of these girls will have a place to truly call their own.
Mears concluded her presentation by pointing out that there are many ways to volunteer or donate time and money to assist with rescuing these 12- to 14-year-old girls. All of the information about the program and its activities is on their website, freethecaptiveshouston.com.
In other business, Houston Police Department-Kingwood Capt. Colin Weatherly made a surprise announcement that he was being transferred away from Kingwood to the Northeast Division.
“Yesterday I got a call about 11 o’clock and was notified that I would be transferred to Northeast effective Saturday (March 25). The person coming to Kingwood will be Lt. Le Conn,” he said. Weatherly explained that Conn is a lieutenant pending her promotion to captain and she would be in Kingwood starting Monday March 27.
“She will be at the next PIP meeting. Invite everyone that you can to come as the chief will be here,” Weatherly said. He noted that it was a great chance to meet the new Houston police chief and the new Kingwood division head, all at the same time.
The Kingwood PIP meets the third Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Kingwood Church of Christ, 2901 Woodland Hills Dr. It is open to the public and all are welcome. Both the HPD and the Kingwood Service Association’s Public Safety Committee encourage area residents to participate.