Last week, I attended the 2012 Human Trafficking Symposium hosted by the Coastal Bend Coalition Against Modern Day Slavery (https://www.facebook.com/cbcamds). Around 70 participants from South Texas attended the all-day event, including law enforcement officers, teachers and administrators, social workers, nurses, and faith-based community representatives.
Each year, approximately 800,000 people are trafficked globally, and between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. Bob Sanborn and Steven Goff of Children at Risk, a Texasnon-profit focused on the well-being of children, said that young girls and women are forced to sell their bodies for $250 to $500 and are “nothing but a product.” Most domestic minor sex trafficking victims are runaways who’ve fled an abusive home in hopes of finding a more secure, stable environment. Traffickers prey on vulnerable women and girls, and use coercive techniques to lure women and children into the commercial sex industry. It’s estimated that 1 in 3 runaways will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home, and the average age of entry into prostitution in the United Statesis 12-14 years old. Although sex trafficking is the largest form of domestic human trafficking, domestic labor trafficking affects thousands of Americans as well. Victims of labor trafficking are frequently found in restaurants, traveling carnivals, peddling/begging rings, traveling sales crews, and in the agricultural industry. Mr. Sanborn closed his presentation by stating that we must focus on four main issues if we want to end human trafficking: (i) awareness; (ii) public policy; (iii) safe houses; and (iv) demand.
Capt. Abel Arriazola of the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office said he and other deputies attended the conference because of the rise in trafficking cases they’ve seen along U.S. Highways 59 and 77. “In order to stop it, you need to learn about it,” he said.
Lt. Robert Rodriguez of the Cameron County Sheriff’s Department discussed the role of law enforcement in the fight against human trafficking. Lt. Rodriguez spoke candidly about the lack of awareness and knowledge in the law enforcement community regarding the red flags and indicators of human trafficking. When investigating a possible trafficking case at a local business, Lt. Rodriguez encouraged law enforcement officers to “look beneath the surface;” for example, officers should ask the business owner to provide employment documents showing social security deductions for each employee, ask how the employees are paid, who does the payroll, and who handles the businesses taxes. His most important piece of advice to anyone involved in the fight against human trafficking was to know your key players (e.g., a local law enforcement official, immigration attorney, social worker, and shelter). We cannot expect law enforcement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or Border Patrol to know who to call or even to put the victim’s interests before the interests of the state. It’s our duty to create a network of “first responders” who understand the crime of human trafficking, and who will take a “victim-centered” approach to the case.
State Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, has been instrumental in recent efforts to implement stronger state human trafficking laws. He discussed plans for a human trafficking summit to be held later this year, and asked for greater attendance and participation at upcoming committee hearings on this issue. Rep. Hunter stated that 2012 is an important year for Texas in the fight against human trafficking, in part because of a new law that will require the state to have safe houses for victims, increase offender prosecutions, and develop reports and data on runaway children, youth pregnancy and family abuse. For more information on how you can get involved with the committee hearings and summit, contact Angie Flores of Rep. Hunter’s office at (361) 695-2048.
Although I’m well-versed in the facts, issues, and challenges of human trafficking, I left the symposium with a greater understanding of law enforcement’s role in the fight, new connections to local law enforcement officials, and a renewed passion to continue my work to end human trafficking. No matter who we are, what skills we have, or where we are in life, we all can do something to end this grave injustice. Let’s resolve to stop making excuses for why we can’t help, and commit to do something, anything, to end slavery in our lifetime.