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We may not always see it, but the sex trade business is thriving in Houston.

This illegal underground business is not only criminal, but also dangerous and sometimes deadly.

Houston Police announced Friday they are searching for a man wanted for beating a teen and forcing her into prostitution over the past three years. Christopher Crawford, 24, is charged with aggravated assault with serious bodily injury.

Crawford’s case is just one of many, police said.

Underage girls across the city are tricked, coerced and forced into prostitution and human trafficking every day. It is a problem many advocates said few people realize and even fewer understand.

Many believe human trafficking is an international issue only. Most do not realize there is a booming illegal trade on the local level as well. Some advocates believe the number of people forced into the business is in the thousands every year.

Take an evening drive through the seedier parts of Houston and you might run across prostitutes. According to officials, some of those girls are minors forced into the business by human trafficking pimps.

“Houston is probably one of the biggest hubs here in the United States,” said Celinda Guerra with the Houston Area Women’s Center.

Guerra manages the Women’s Center crisis hotline. She said the hotline get thousands of calls every year from women forced into prostitution. It is common for the operators to hear from teens, she said.

“Human trafficking and sex trafficking is basically modern day slavery,” she said. “But, unfortunately, this is happening right in our back yard and it’s a huge problem here in Houston.”

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