AUSTIN, Texas — Sex trafficking survivor and educator Toni McKinley says it’s time for Texans to open their eyes to the “underworld” around them.

“Start noticing it a lot more because we’re walking on the streets, we’re shopping, eating and we need help,” McKinley said. “People aren’t recognizing us.”

McKinley spoke to a local audience at the “Surviving Sex Trafficking” documentary screening at the Violet Crown Theater in downtown Austin. The film features stories from numerous survivors, including two women from Dallas and Houston.

The activists say the state and agencies involved in investigating human trafficking, similar to the current case regarding “The Refuge” in Bastrop, need to figure out how to work together to prevent and prosecute these crimes — or it’s time to bring in others who are willing to make this issue a priority.

“We need the right people in there, who are willing to get the training, listen to survivors, listen to people who are knowledgable about trauma and trafficking,” McKinley said. “Do the boots-on-the-ground work; it starts at the top.”

According to a study by the University of Texas’ School for Social Work, approximately 79,000 young adults and minors have been sex trafficked in the state of Texas. McKinley says most victims decide against reporting incidents due to a fear of retaliation or frustration over red tape and dismissed claims, so the numbers could be significantly higher.

“The services they need, they need it right away,” McKinley said. “So I think that’s really critical. How do we increase that response time?”

For the past 11 years, the Texas resident has made advocacy her life’s mission, including becoming community director for the survivor-led Magdalene House. However, there are countless ways she says others can help be an ally to the cause.

“Reach out to your local organization and see what they need, what you can offer them,” McKinley said. “It’s as simple as asking them.”