AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Benz Adriano is a survivor. Now, Texas Department of Transportation employees know it.
Adriano spoke to a group of the agency’s maintenance crews in Austin in an effort to boost awareness of human trafficking in Texas. Adriano shared his story to a room full of tough transportation workers Tuesday.
“Even though I never had shackles, but I was stripped of my freedom…violated my rights as a human, mistreated, brainwashed, coerced and forced to do something against my will,” he said.
He detailed being shipped to different hotels and restaurants around the country, where he was forced to work long hours for little money. He was threatened and told to keep quiet. He contemplated suicide.
“I am finally free,” Adriano said. “My experience made me smarter and stronger, but I won’t forget— I will use it to help save a life.”
Adriano’s presentation was part of a TxDOT initiative to train its field crews on spotting signs of trafficking while they’re out on the job— particularly for contract workers. A professor from the University of Texas was also invited to speak to the group about human trafficking statistics. A 2017 UT study estimated there were more than 300,000 human trafficking victims at any given time in Texas.
According to the Human Trafficking and Transnational/Organized Crime Section of the Texas Attorney General’s Office, red flags of labor trafficking could include when workers arrive malnourished, dehydrated or with chronic pain. Another clue may be if housing, food and transportation are all provided by the worker’s employer.
“Knowing the signs of what to look for, I think for us in particular, I think it’d be a great asset,” TxDOT Highway Emergency Response Operator (HERO) Supervisor Joey Campbell.
TxDOT executive director James Bass said each of the agency’s vehicles will be outfitted with placards and a dashboard sticker with hotline details and reference information from Tuesday’s training on how to spot and report human trafficking.
“I do think there’s more we can do and if we can always help better someone’s life that may find themselves in that situation, there’s nothing better that we can be doing as individuals,” Bass said.
Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott has been a staunch supporter of anti-trafficking efforts in the state.
“I have no doubt that in joining together, we can help end this in humanity because nothing on this Earth is more powerful than Texans helping Texans,” Abbott said.
TxDOT has also posted information about reporting suspected trafficking at rest stops around the state.
The phone number for the National Human Trafficking Hotline is: 1-(888) 373-7888.