By KAREN LA PIERRE
While they have not identified any human trafficking crimes at this time in the area, Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees wants to create awareness of the issue.
"Once in a while, we investigate allegations of prostitution," Drees said. "It is most likely happening, but they have not found anyone.
"Our concern would be more about children who get trafficked and laborers who are being abused.
"These are the kinds of crimes that are going to be discovered with the citizens observing just being aware of what's going on around them and observing things that don't seem right. That is how law enforcement is able to find out about these things."
He prefers individuals who have a gut feeling something is wrong to call 911.
"These types of things happen quickly. If local law enforcement doesn't respond quickly, the opportunity is going to be lost," Drees said.
"Law enforcement is always about people stepping up. The vast majority of crimes solved are reported by the public. Somebody just looks over and says that doesn't seem right and makes the phone call."
Drees encourages anyone who sees a child who is not sick and not in school on a school day to notify authorities.
"Truancy often is the first symptom that something is really wrong in a child's life," he said. "Truancy has to be investigated."
What he envisions in Hays more than anything is labor trafficking in farm laborers and temporary workers in construction jobs after a storm.
"This is where there is a lot of opportunity for this kind of exploitation in the workforce," he said.
He also sees perpetrators contacting girls on the Internet could be a problem.
He likens this issue to domestic violence and child abuse, and with awareness, victims can receive the help they need.
"Domestic violence used to never get reported," he said. "People are much more vigilant. Schools are very proactive."
The public now reports it when a woman runs from a house screaming, he said.
Another thing he has seen locally is girls 14 or 15 years old dating college guys, which is not a good idea.
"We don't have the obvious places you'd look for human trafficking," like strip clubs, said Charlene Brubaker, assistant Ellis County attorney.
She said in Ellis County, human trafficking won't be as obvious and more likely will be isolated.