Compiled by Joe Southern
Elected officials in Fort Bend County and across Texas have made a concerted effort to battle human trafficking here.
On Monday, U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, Fort Bend County Judge KP George, and Fort Bend Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers joined the FBI for a briefing on human trafficking offenses in Fort Bend County. Last week State Sen. Joan Huffman filed Senate Bills 20, 1801, 1802, and 1803, each with a unique approach to ending human trafficking in Texas.
Also last week, the Texas Department of Transportation, in partnership with the Gov. Greg Abbott, law enforcement, and industry partners, launched its “On the Road to End Human Trafficking” initiative.
Human trafficking preys on the most vulnerable in society and is a gruesome form of modern-day slavery. Human trafficking is a growing threat to the community. That’s why Olson and George are developing a task force to investigate and prosecute cases of human trafficking throughout Fort Bend County.
“As the co-chair of the House Victims’ Rights Caucus, I’m committed to serving as a voice for victims of human trafficking,” Olson said. “As a rising number of traffickers bring their innocent victims through the I-10 corridor, we have a moral obligation to stop these crimes before they happen and save precious lives. The information provided by the FBI was an important step for Judge KP George, Commissioner Andy Meyers and I to determine effective ways local communities and the federal government can proactively address human trafficking and protect the most vulnerable in our communities.”
“As the top elected official of Fort Bend County, I recognize that human trafficking is serious and widespread threat that must be tackled by every level of government,” George said. “That’s why I am proud to partner with our local officials like District Attorney Brian Middleton and our federal counterparts in Congressman Olson and the FBI. We will continue doing everything in our power to pursue the criminals behind this dehumanizing industry. Our human trafficking taskforce will identify and act decisively in saving lives.”
“Human trafficking is a threat to our community that concerns me greatly” Fort Bend Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers said. “As a board member of Childproof America, an organization dedicated to anti-human trafficking efforts, I’ve made it a priority to combat this issue head on. My office is currently working with our state legislature, with State Representatives John Zerwas and Rick Miller, and State Senators Joan Huffman and Lois Kolkhorst, to get funding appropriated that will train prosecutors, law enforcement, and school leadership on identifying at-risk students. Fort Bend County Judge KP George and I will continue to fight this issue and we are happy to have a great partnership with Congressman Pete Olson and the FBI on this issue.”
“The Fort Bend District Attorney’s Office will do everything within its power to combat human trafficking in the county” District Attorney Brian Middleton said. “Human traffickers are skilled at avoiding detection and intimidating their victims. Our battle against human trafficking requires well trained officers and prosecutors as we well as collaboration with community members. We are committed to working with all agencies and the community to end human trafficking in Fort Bend County.”
For her part, Sen. Huffman hopes the bills she filed will help stop human trafficking across the state.
“The Texas Legislature is doing its part to end human trafficking. I am working with the Governor and Lt. Governor, my colleagues, law enforcement, survivor advocates, and other stakeholders to pass these bills into law,” Huffman said. “Protecting vulnerable Texans and punishing those who engage in human trafficking are top priorities of mine. These bills will make a significant impact throughout the state once they are signed into law.”
Senate Bill 20 codifies the 14 recommendations from the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force report, issued in December. These recommendations crack down on illicit massage businesses, enhance investigative and prosecutorial tools, and protect trafficking victims. The report can be viewed at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/sites/default/files/files/divisions/criminal- justice/HumanTraffickingReport-2018.pdf.
Senate Bill 1801 provides to trafficking survivors a one-time ability to make confidential records of crimes that their traffickers forced them to commit. Senate Bill 1802 creates enhanced punishments for sex trafficking crimes, and provides new prosecutorial tools to fight those crimes. Senate Bill 1803 ensures that traffickers are required to spend time in jail when convicted of their crimes.
“We must do everything we can to eliminate human trafficking in Texas and to protect the survivors of these horrific crimes,” Gov. Greg Abbott said. “I applaud Senator Huffman for her leadership in developing solutions that crack down on human trafficking, put dangerous criminals behind bars, and provide care and rehabilitation services for victims. Together, we will send a message that the ideals of freedom, justice, and human dignity will always prevail in the State of Texas.”
Huffman has filed several other human trafficking bills this session. SB 458 requires human trafficking training for members of boards of trustees and superintendents of independent school districts. SB 498 creates remedies for businesses who rent office space close to human trafficking enterprises to get out of their lease, and enhances the ability of landlords to dismiss tenants who engage in human trafficking practices.
SB 696 streamlines requirements for peace officers to complete mandatory training on human trafficking. SB 923 prohibits persons younger than 21 years of age from working at a sexually oriented business, and creates a common nuisance for sexually oriented businesses that allow children younger than 18 on their premises. SB 1257 develops the attorney general’s authority to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, concurrently with local prosecutors.
TxDOT is taking initiative to create awareness of human trafficking on the state highways.
“Human trafficking is a horrific crime that knows no boundaries and, sadly, affects hundreds of thousands of women, children and men across our state and around the world,” said TxDOT Executive Director James Bass. “We are proud to work with the Governor’s Commission for Women and other partners to bring an end to this modern-day slavery.”
Similar to a neighborhood watch program, the initiative encourages everyone to know, watch for and report signs of trafficking. According to University of Texas research, more than 300,000 people are trafficked in Texas at any given time, including 79,000 youth victims. These innocent human beings are horrifically abused by being forced into slavery, either in the form of hard labor or sex/prostitution.
To raise public awareness and help eradicate this criminal activity, TxDOT is educating its employees as well as travelers. For employees, a wallet card along with an information sheet to keep in TxDOT vehicles provide details on signs to look for and steps to take to report trafficking. Posters and restroom stall signs also will be displayed in TxDOT’s Texas Travel Information Centers and Safety Rest Areas across the state to provide critical information to victims of human trafficking on how to reach out for help.
The public is encouraged to use a toll-free, 24/7 confidential phone number, 888-373-7888, to report suspected trafficking; victims are encouraged to call 911. TxDOT’s human trafficking materials are available for others to download and use at www.txdot.gov.