Ending Human Trafficking in Texas

This story was written for my Navigating State Government class.

According to an assessment released by the Texas Department of Public Safety on April 2014, sex trafficking enterprises in Texas can earn between between $37,800 and $75,600 per week. That’s if the enterprises have five to ten victims who see six customers every day.

To help decrease the number of human traffickers in the state, a new House Bill is in the process of becoming a law. HB 416, if passed, would require “personnel of abortion facilities and certain other facilities performing abortions to complete training on human trafficking.”

“The sad thing is that many or most of Texas citizens have no clue about this issue…that is except for the people who are using the services of the pimps and those traffickers who abuse these children and young adults that have been captured into this ugly business and awful mark on our culture,” said Rep. Rick Miller.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such as has not attained 18 years of age.” It is also defined as “labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”

Rep. Debbie Riddle is the primary author of HB 416. Rep. Travis Clardy, Rep. Dwayne Bohac, Rep. Rick Miller and Rep. John Cyrier are joint authors of the legislation. There are also 27 co-authors for the bill.

“I have been involved in the Human Trafficking issue for some time now in Fort Bend County. The task force there has been at work for over a year, focused on several important areas of this issue. The issues are awareness, education, police activities and the legal system to adequately deal with those participating in this horrible business,” said Miller. “When I was first briefed on the issue, there was no question in my mind that I needed to be involved and be part of the effort to protect our precious children who have become victims of this horrible crime.”

In 2009, the Texas Legislature passed HB 4009, which created the Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force. The task force would include different members of the Texas community such as the Texas Workforce Commission, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Texas Youth Commission, The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, a hotel or motel representative and an attorney representing the state. Having different government and nongovernmental entities would help make comprehensive efforts to fight human trafficking.

“This education must be provided to everyone who might be involved with our children in the school environment such as teachers and administrators, parents, clubs, malls and as indicated in this bill, the Planned Parenthood entities that might be treating or providing healthcare or abortions to these children who have become pregnant during their captivity in the trafficking environment. Of course our public safety people must also be trained to recognize the traits of these children as well,” said Miller.

Houston is the fourth largest city in the country with a population that is over two million people. It’s also number one on the U.S. top 20 human trafficking jurisdictions in the country, according to Mel Merriweather, who wrote a report about modern day slavery for Harris County’s Precinct 7.

In late 2007, 30 percent of the calls received by the National Human Trafficking Hotline were from Texas. Twenty-five percent of international victims were in Texas, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

With a population over one million, Dallas is also on the list of top 20 human jurisdictions in the country. According to the Center for Public Policy Studies, a non-profit from Colorado that provides technical research, consulting and development services to public-sector agencies in the U.S. and the world, 35 percent of the state’s commercial sexual exploitation cases are in the Dallas-Fort Worth region even though the city only has 26 percent of the state’s population.

HB 416 would require abortion facilities, ambulatory surgical centers that perform 50 abortions in any 12-month period and/or has direct contact with patients of the facility to complete training.

“The whole idea behind this bill is to provide the training necessary so that the people who come in contact with the children can recognize that these children are victims of the human trafficking business and can refer them to the local police. This environment is one that if the child does not escape it within several years, the likelihood of them living past the age of 21 is not very good,” said Miller.

The executive commissioner of the Health and Human Services Commission has to develop a one-time basic education and training program on trafficking. Training would last four hours and would include a review of the substance of sections of the Penal Code.

According to the Planned Parenthood website and The Austin Chronicle, they staff is trained to check for signs of domestic violence and human trafficking.

“When Planned Parenthood learns of an operation that exploits young women, we vigilantly work with law enforcement authorities to uncover and stop this abhorrent activity,” said Stuart Schear, Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s vice president for communications, in a press release. “Planned Parenthood’s top priority is the health and safety of our patients and the health and well-being of women and teens across the country, and we have been in contact with federal and local authorities to identify the persons involved in these visits.”

The Texas Department of State Health Services will provide the training programs and approve the programs that meet the requirements. A list of the programs would be available on the DSHS website.

“Many assert that victims of human trafficking access health care services at various points of the state’s health care system and often visit abortion facilities accompanied by a trafficker or pimp. The parties also assert that these victims sometimes seek an abortion when forced by a trafficker,” said MeLissa Nemecek, Rep. Cyrier’s Chief of Staff. “Concerns have been raised that these women can slip through the system unnoticed because abortion facility workers do not know how to identify trafficked women and consequently miss an opportunity to rescue them.”

According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, or NHTRC, Texas is number two for the amount of calls placed to the center. California was first on the list.

At the 2006 U.S. Department of Justice’s National Conference on Human Trafficking, the interstate I-10 was identified as one of the main routes for human traffickers. The two cities along the interstate are identified with a high level of human trafficking are El Paso and Houston.

“Texas has high numbers because we border with another country, Mexico,” said Nemecek. “[Rep. Cyrier] is the co-author of HB 11, which can strengthen the border through, among other things, more stringent penalties for the smuggling of humans and illegal contraband through the border, improved tools to address the counter flow of contraband, enhanced transparency of crime data throughout Texas, and more effective data sharing by law enforcement to connect crimes to identify larger criminal enterprises and pursue stronger penalties against organized crime. H.B. 11 seeks to address these issues and make Texas safer by creating a stronger border.”

In 2014, the HNTRC received 1,482 online tip reports, 1,149 emails and 21,431 phone calls from country. From the total number of phone calls made to the center, 5,978, or 28 percent, were made from a community member. Yet 339, or less than two percent, calls were made from a medical professional.

For 2014, Texas placed 1,876 calls to the HNTRC. That is less than 10 percent of the total calls that the HNTRC received. California placed 3,495 calls or 18 percent of the total calls to the center.

When talking about labor trafficking cases in the United States, 84 percent of the victims are adults and 16 percent are minors. Foreign nationals make up 68 percent of the victims with U.S. and legal residents make up almost 16 percent.

For sex trafficking cases in the United States, the numbers are much different. Adults make 61 percent of the victims, but less than 37 percent are minors. Foreign nationals make up 13 percent, while U.S. and legal residents make up 44 percent of the victims.

According to a report released by the Center for Public Policy Studies on January 2013, only four out of 350 law enforcement agencies in the state have federally funded task forces devoted to human trafficking.

Law enforcement are not required to compile and report statistics specific to human trafficking cases in Texas. Because of this and having traffickers plead lesser penalties, statistics can be challenging. According to the Center for Public Policy Studies, cities that have seen an increase in prosecution for human trafficking are parts of the state where data is being reported.

Police officers are required to complete a four-hour training course on human trafficking. Travis County Sheriff’s Training Academy uses the course “to increase the law enforcement communities” in the issues of “human trafficking through the exposure of informational materials and research” that includes “victim identification and investigation techniques, rescue and prosecution considerations, referral and service provider availability.”

“The author of the bill, Rep. Debbie Riddle, has done a good job of covering the bases,” said Nemecek.

There are currently a good amount of pro-life organizations that are in support of HB 416, which include the Texas Alliance for Life, Texans for Life Coalition and the Texas Catholic Conference, who are the public policy voice of the Catholic Bishops of Texas

“[Texas Alliance for Life] believes in protecting all innocent human lives, including trafficking victims. Research shows that trafficking victims are often taken to abortion facilities and forced to have abortions,” said Deirdre Cooper, a public policy analyst for Texas Alliance for Life. Abby Johnson testified that they knew this went on at her Planned Parenthood abortion facility in Bryan, but they did nothing to try to help the victim, simply gave her an abortion and sent her right back to her captor.”

Abby Johnson was a former clinic doctor for Planned Parenthood before resigning in 2009 after watching an abortion on an ultrasound. She is now a pro-life activist and an author of a book describing her experiences working for Planned Parenthood.

Cooper adds that the organization wants to help women from getting forced abortions and to help them leave their captors by providing help and resources.

“This bill is about protecting women from forced abortions and human trafficking. This bill is about training abortion facility workers to recognize victims and to offer them support and resources. The most important thing is protecting innocent life – the trafficking victim and her unborn baby. We must do all we can to protect and help women in those horrific situations,” said Cooper.

According to Cooper, ending human trafficking will take many approaches from local, state, federal and international groups.

            “Some of those components need to be legal- laws passed to protect women and prosecute traffickers, etc.,” said Cooper. “Only then will we be able to make human trafficking and abortion truly unthinkable. Laws are necessary too, and so we will continue to work for good laws that protect women and children, but we must also change hearts and minds to value all human life.”

HB 416 has seen a lot of movement in the house. The bill was referred to the State Affairs Committee where it got seven “ayes,” three “nayes” and two abstentions. Currently, the bill is being considered in Calendars.

Rep. Donna Campbell filed Senate Bill 1873, which is identical to HB 416. It currently scheduled for public hearing.

Nemecek said that the biggest challenge for HB 416 is timing.

“At this point, I believe the only hurdle for HB 416 is time. There are only 38 more days left of the legislative session. HB 416 needs to get on the General State Calendar very soon to make it pass the House, Senate Committee and the Senate in time,” said Nemecek.

There are over 40 bills in Congress right now that are related to human trafficking in the United States and other parts of the world. One bill that has recently caused controversy is the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act after the Senate passed it anonymously.

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act would increase law enforcement resources to go after sex trafficking perpetrators, and would create a new fund to help victims. The portion of non-taxpayer money in the victims’ fund, which is paid by the criminals’ fines, could not pay for any medical services so abortion restrictions wouldn’t apply.

“I feel I have a responsibility to protect our nation’s most vulnerable. I am pleased that once again we have come together to solve a major problem facing our country: human trafficking,” wrote Cornyn in an opinion piece for the Houston Chronicle. “We can always do more to advocate and serve those who have been affected by abuse and exploitation.”

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