WACO, TX (KAUZ) - Human trafficking is the second most prevalent criminal activity globally, and it's hit Texas hard.
Institute on Domestic Violence and Sex Trafficking statistics show there are more than 300,000 human trafficking victims in Texas alone. Seventy-nine thousand of those are under the age of 25.
One of those victims shared her story in Waco Friday hoping to put a face on all the other victims.
Poised and polished, Julia Walsh, talked in front of a crowd at the Antioch Community Church on 20th Street.
"I've really become knowledgeable in the area of bringing community awareness," Walsh said.
Speaking for UNBOUND'S annual 'Not in my City Human Trafficking Awareness Night' event is something the 25-year-old never thought she would do.
"Ironically enough, I did not like public speaking but I grew to get more accustomed to it," Walsh said.
Walsh has become accustomed to it because she is a survivor of sex trafficking who wants to help victims get out and get help.
She said a boyfriend forced her into prostitution when she was 18.
"I think I was already destroyed from a lot of other things happening in my life so I went from one negative situation to another negative situation," Walsh said.
After escaping him, she became the victim of three other traffickers, an online date, a close friend, and a guy at a bus stop. Walsh said she traveled all over the country under their control as they sold her body for sex.
One day when she was 22 she said she finally realized she was a victim and sought out help. She found it in Houston at a place that offers counseling to sex trafficking victims. Now that she's healed, she's helping others like her.
"I just jumped on it in a leap of faith and here I am today," Walsh said.
Walsh is one of the lucky ones. Most victims die.
"The average life expectancy of someone who is trapped in sex trafficking is seven years," said Susan Peters, the UNBOUND executive director. "If they don't get out, they will not survive. That's because of homicide, because of overdose, you know suicide, because of disease. It's a very very dangerous and hostile criminal activity to be in."
Peters said the human trafficking problem is getting worse globally, nationally and locally. Peters said children and teens in Waco are especially vulnerable because there is a high poverty rate, and 1,600 of them don't have a place to call home or adults looking after them.
"It's a very low start-up cost and there's an endless supply and demand," Peters said.
Peters said 20 percent of the victims nationwide end up going through Texas at one point or another.
"The I-35 corridor has a lot of motels so it's convenient for people along the interstate to stop," said Det. Kim Clark with the Waco Police Department.
Clark said law enforcement and lawmakers are working on the problem, however, by rooting out the pimps and Johns with undercover investigations and sting operations and toughening up penalties for human trafficking involvement.
"Now that there's awareness and officers are getting trained better, we actually have people looking at the trafficking aspect of the cases instead of just as a sexual assault of a child," Clark said.
Both Peters and Clark said all that is helping.
"We're very proud of the Heart of Texas really combating this and making it a hostile environment for human trafficking," Peters said.
What they said might help the most, though, is hearing and seeing Walsh's voice and face to put a face in front of the community and a voice behind the problem.
"It's definitely difficult but in telling it, it serves a purpose to helping others and brings community awareness," Walsh said.
The Institute on Domestic Violence and Sex Trafficking did an extensive study on human trafficking that it published in December. You can get more information on the problem by clicking here.