Alyssa Villarreal of Waxahachie has been raising awareness about human sex trafficking since she was a fifth-grader, a major societal issue she first learned about during a program at her church, Bethsda Assembly of God.
It was then she became aware of the work being done by Project Rescue, a nonprofit based in Springfield, Missouri, that works to rescue women and children ensnared in an underworld where hope doesn’t exist. Project Rescue maintains an active presence in several countries around the world as well as in the United States. Its programs include setting up safe havens for victims, coordinating with enforcement authorities as well as educating the community at large.
As a Project Rescue volunteer, Villarreal has worked tirelessly since first learning about the organization to raise awareness as well as funds. Now age 22, she is completing a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Tarleton University, a major she said she chose because of her work with Project Rescue. And, quite likely, her career path will also reflect her passion to see the problem eliminated.
“Project Rescue is an organization that helps women and children caught up in the sex trades and tells them how to get out,” said Villarreal, who has met the nonprofit’s inspirational founder, Beth Grant. What she has learned over the years has imparted a strong message: “This could have been me, my mom or my aunt,” she said of the stories shared by those who have been rescued. “Since I first learned of Project Rescue and having the opportunity to meet Beth Grant that summer, I’ve wanted to help raise awareness and raise money for the programs. I’m constantly spreading the word.”
Part of that word includes sharing Project Rescue’s toll-free number – 866-862-0919 – victims can call for assistance.
Human trafficking isn’t just an issue for the poor, Villarreal said, noting that it encompasses all ages, races, genders and nationalities.
“It could be you, it could be your child, niece or nephew,” she said, noting it’s the money involved that continues to drive the human trafficking industry and its close companion, drug trafficking. “There is no value to the human lives caught up in it.”
Worldwide, an estimated 20.8 million people are victims of human trafficking, contributing to an industry that generates more than $150 billion in illegal profits, according to statistics on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s website, which notes the numbers are likely higher.
In Houston alone this year to date, there have been 455 reported cases of human trafficking, with more than 800 calls from victims who’ve reached out to Project Rescue’s hotline, Villarreal said.
“I want people to take action,” she said, noting that help can take the form of simply spreading word about the problem, becoming involved with Project Rescue and even helping to raise funds. “I’m a vessel and I’m here to share the word. At the end of the day, my hope is that, one day, this problem won’t exist.”
Villarreal is already working on the annual fundraiser she holds for Project Rescue. The fundraiser, which will include a silent auction and a presentation about human trafficking, will be held Jan. 11, during National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. All funds raised go to Project Rescue and its mission of helping trafficking victims, she said.
“Where there is degradation of human life, Project Rescue is trying to create hope,” she said.
For more information about Villarreal’s local efforts involving Project Rescue, search for her by name Alyssa Villarreal on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Project Rescue website is online at https://projectrescue.com and provides an array of information about its services as well as links to numerous resources, including the DHS Blue Campaign against human trafficking. The direct link to the DHS site online is https://www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign.