In April of this year I spent two weeks in Dallas doing some work as a contractor for the US Army. We had lunch a couple of times at this little sports bar called Founder’s Grill. In the doorway at Founder’s, there is a sign posted that caught my attention. I snapped a picture with my phone:
What really struck me was that a former Confederate state, today home to a very diverse population (especially in Dallas), needs reminding of the ills of slavery. I thought, considering the South’s historical relationship with slavery, hadn’t these guys already learned their lesson? I mean, it’s 2011; do we really need signs to tell us that slavery is illegal and to provide a number to call in case we find a slave?
Yes. Especially in Texas, which plays a key role in North American migration patterns. A couple of hours outside of Dallas, Houston “is either the leading trafficking site in the U.S. or very near the top, along with Los Angeles, Atlanta, New Orleans, and New York City… [It] sits at the center of major highways between Los Angeles and Miami and between the U.S. and Latin America,” according to this 2010 article in Texas Monthly. The reason that I stumbled across this sign is because I was in the middle of a major migration hub. It is also worth noting that Founder’s is located directly across the street from Dallas’ Union Station, a potential medium for moving trafficked persons.
The abundance of strip clubs in the Dallas area is also worth noting. Driving down the highway, it is impossible not to notice the billboards featuring barely dressed women advertising free food & drink ’till 5:00am, with no cover charges. If you’re from DC, land of the $8 beer and the $20 cover, this may be hard to imagine, but Dallas club owners don’t need to charge for entry or concessions because they can recoup their costs in other ways. They know that patrons will drink and buy lap dances, and in some cases possibly illicit sexual services. With the sheer abundance of cheap strip clubs in Dallas, I suspect that many are involved in illicit sex trafficking, either directly or indirectly. The volume of licit establishments also makes it easier for the illicit ones to blend in.
There was one more factor that helped me better understand why I had seen the slavery sign in Dallas. Earlier this month the anti-trafficking organization Stop the Traffik posted signs in Manchester, England as a public awareness campaign effort. Mancunians awoke one morning startled to find official-looking signage plastered on lampposts across the city that read, “WARNING: Human Traffickers Operate Here.” This progressive country that abolished slavery 204 years ago still struggles with the problem to this day. Back in Texas, a place at the crossroads of several major migration routes with lax strip club regulations and a history of standing up for slaveowner rights, similar problems are faced.
Seeing a slavery warning in a former Confederate state is sad. On a positive note, efforts are being made to call public attention to the problem and Texas has created a Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force to address it. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see the sign in Dallas because slavery, like many global problems, is pervasive. It permeates borders, cultures, social status, and other factors that usually divide people. Public awareness campaigns are a necessary element in human trafficking prevention and mitigation efforts.