Exploring the Unpleasant: Human Trafficking in Houston

October 13, 2021, Saara Maknojia  

This week the LEAP ambassadors, LEAP students, and Pre-Law Cohort members took a trip to downtown Houston at the Houston Community College of Spring Branch for a Human Trafficking Panel event, hosted by the World Affairs Council. The event included Chris Graves, the Associate Director of the Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking; Dennis Mark, who is the Task Force Coordinator for the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance for the Houston Police Department; and Sergeant Robert Mendel, who serves in the Houston Police Department in the Vice Human Trafficking Unit. The attendees for the Human Trafficking event included Heather Barodi, Yvette Mendoza, Morgan Robertson, Erin Juarez, Audrey Hightower, and Saara Maknojia. 

As we entered the corridor to the Houston Community College we were greeted by the wonderful staff from The World Affairs Council, and we soon found seats near the speakers.

After introductions from Administrators from HCC and Ronan O’Malley and Jahan Jafarpour…

Tatiana Ulkist, Program Coordinator for WAC, began the informative discussion about Human Trafficking.

Throughout the discussions, I was interested in the concepts of “attachment” that a trafficked person felt towards their trafficker, a concept that Sergeant Robert Mendel elaborated on. Chris Graves offered insight into how he and his team work with trafficked individuals to provide resources to overcome their traumas. Dennis Mark included the behavioral changes a victim may undergo and signs to look for if you believe an individual is being trafficked.  

Near the end, the ground was open for questions. Yvette asked the panelists whether the victims of human trafficking ever experience Stockholm Syndrome. All three panelists said that it is very common.

Audrey also asked a question for the speakers concerning the limited resources that we have as of right now, and what the uses of manpower could do to change or add on to defeating more human trafficking from taking place.  

Eventually, the panel discussion came to an end, but Chris Graves, Sergeant Robert Medel, and Dennis Mark were kind enough to spend some personal time with the SHSU students. In the short time we had with them, the speakers answered any remaining questions we had and made efforts to know each and every one of us better.  

We were so thankful to be able to take some pictures with the speakers! 

Chris, Dennis, and Sergeant Robert were very compassionate and knowledgeable in the Human Trafficking Task Force. My favorite part of this event included getting to learn new concepts of a victim and trafficker relationship, the changes a victim may undergo, and the signs we were taught by the panelist to search for in possible victims.  

Discussing Human Trafficking Over Dinner

Erin Juarez

After enjoying the Human Trafficking event, hosted by WAC, we walked across the parking lot to a Greek restaurant, called  Niko Niko’s Greek & American Cafe.

Everyone was so excited to have Greek food, but even more excited to have dinner together. As we walked in, the cashiers greeted us so nicely and handed us the menus. They also told us about their special plate of the day. There were so many choices on the menu, it seemed almost impossible to decide. I was so excited to have Greek food, it has been over two years since I last had it. I was excited to see my food make its way to the table.

The menu had many options: Salads, Sandwiches, Sides, Burgers, Plates, Soups and Starters.

We took a closer look to see what appealed most to us. For starters we got appetizers that ranged from Hummus with their famous chips, cheese sticks, and calamari.

We were impressed by how good the appetizers were and had fun deciding which hummus was our favorite. I was already full, but I knew I had to make room for more! Choices ranged from the Gyro Plate, Gyro Sandwich, Greek Salad, to The Hercules Plate.

It was delicious to say the least. I was very content with my choice and so was everyone else. I, personally, will be coming back to Niko Niko’s Greek & American Café. Their service and their food were great.

By the time we finished our food, the restaurant was closing the place down. That did not stop us from ordering desserts, though. Ms. Stephanie and Morgan chose the desserts–and they did an excellent job. They came back with three different cakes: Black Forest, Walnut Cake, and Kasetina. Because it was close to closing hour, we enjoyed them in the car.

Overall, the night went well, and our stomachs were content. I remembered how good Greek food is, and everyone was satisfied with their meal order. Whenever I am back in that area of Houston I know where I am eating!

Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Huron Daily Tribune, Laredo Morning Times, Beaumont Enterprise, Connecticut Post, and Midland Reporter Telegram. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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