Trafficking advocacy on the rise in Wichita Falls

Ending sex trafficking

WICHITA FALLS, Texas (TNN) - “It’s unfortunate, sex trafficking touched us personally with someone we care about deeply.”

That’s what led Vicky Payne to form Southern Grit advocacy, with a focus on preventing, disrupting and ending sex trafficking in Texas.

“I had a survivor tell me, this is what her boyfriend did to her, he said ‘well you’re already doing it anyway, might as well get paid for it,'” Payne said.

Each year, more and more trafficking victims have been reported in Wichita Falls and Wichita County.

The National Trafficking Hotline reported 13 cases in Wichita County from 2014-2018, and First Step has seen 14 cases in the past three years with nine from 2019 alone.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in the last year of victims that are coming in for safety reasons that are human trafficking," First Step executive director Michelle Turnbow said. "Almost at any given time, there is a human trafficking victim at the safehouse, which used to not be in the last couple of years occasionally you’d have one or two.”

First Step is also answering that need, by introducing a sexual assault and human trafficking advocate to their team starting next year.

“We kind of put that together to fill the need we see in Wichita Falls and surrounding areas and we desperately need as much help as we can get in that area,” Turnbow said.

Helping fight an issue, that needs everyone on board.

“I think that if we all work together as a team in our community, and we do need as many advocates and as many people as we can,” Turnbow said.

To get itself started, Southern Grit is fundraising at Smith’s Gardentwon Nov. 16, with part of the sales going towards the over $100,000 the organization needs.

“Starting from zero that’s a lot of money we need to raise to be able to operate,” Payne said.

If you believe someone is the victim of trafficking, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or the Homeland Security tip line at 866-347-2423. Call 911 if someone is in immediate danger.

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