There is an epidemic in our country that can impact anyone, regardless of race, gender, location and socio-economic status. It is called Human Trafficking and it is a modern day form of human slavery.
Worldwide, there are between 21 million and 30 million men, women and children enslaved today. As many as 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year. At least 80% of those are female and half are children. Up to 60,000 people have fallen victim to human trafficking in the United States, creating a $10 billion industry, and the average age of a child that enters the sex trade in the U.S. is 12 to 14 years old. It is believed that 83% of victims of sex trafficking cases in the United States are American citizens.
To bring it home, let me share that the National Human Trafficking Hotline received more calls from Texas than any other state in the United States. There were at least 330 human trafficking cases reported in Texas for 2015, and more than 2,100 since 2007.
It saddens me to share those statistics. That’s why we must look past those numbers and see the names, the faces and the families who are impacted by these terrible crimes every day.
It’s also important that we work hard to stop it.
Last year, Congress passed a bipartisan bill that will go a long way to stopping human trafficking. The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA):
· Helps law enforcement better target and hold accountable those who are purchasing sex or labor from a trafficking victim
· Increases criminal fines on human traffickers, directing that money to the services that help the victims
· Requires traffickers to be treated as violent criminals, deterring pre-trial release from custody
· Streamlines the process for state and local officials to obtain wiretap warrants in pursuit of traffickers
· Creates a program to help state and local governmenats form a local human trafficking prevention task force
Provides authority for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to train military veterans to become law enforcement officials focused on stopping human traffickers.
The JVTA legislation also gave the U.S. Marshals Service new authority to help local law enforcement stop human trafficking. Only a month after it was signed, teenagers in Tennessee and Virginia were returned home due to this coordination, and the criminals were brought to justice.
At the state level, Texas is taking proactive steps to combat this problem. As early as 2003, Texas passed one of the first state-level anti-trafficking laws and followed up in 2009 with the creation of the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force. Their goal is to better understand how human traffickers operate in Texas, educate others on how to identify it and facilitate cooperation between law-enforcement and other organizations at every level to stop human trafficking. They also offer legislative recommendations to our state government to help fine-tune the process and stop more criminals. This past legislative session in Texas also eliminated the statute of limitations on those who have engaged in child prostitution.
More is being done at the local level as well. The Rivard Report recently highlighted a remarkable task force in San Antonio that is focused on finding missing foster children, many of whom end up as victims of human trafficking. Their persistence and creative thinking is making a difference and I hope to see other cities use this model to combat human trafficking.
What can you do to help? January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, so I encourage you to learn more about the signs of human trafficking by visiting traffickingresourcecenter.org. And if you think you know someone who might be a victim of human trafficking, you can call the Human Trafficking Hotline – 1-888-373-7888.