On Jan. 5, Gov. Greg Abbott proclaimed January 2018 to be Human Trafficking Prevention Month in Texas to emphasize his administration’s commitment to fighting the heinous crime.
A 2017 study released by the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work found that 313,000 Texans are victims of human trafficking at any given time.
“The reality of this evil enterprise can become overwhelming; however, if the past year has taught us anything, it is the fact that Texans will not be overcome in the face of adversity,” Abbott said in his press release. “Together, we can protect the vulnerable, help victims find healing and bring offenders to justice.”
According to the IDVSA study, traffickers exploit approximately $600 million from 234,000 workers in Texas. The study also found that 79,000 Texan minors and youth are victims of sex trafficking. Abbott applauded the work of his Child Sex Trafficking Team, which was established in 2016 with the passing of House Bill 10 and 1446.
“Since the creation of the Child Sex Trafficking Team in my office, innovative and promising practices have been launched around the state,” Abbott said.
This year the team will focus on rolling out care coordination teams, new services and specialized placements for victims in Texas’ largest trafficking hot spots — Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar and Travis Counties, said team director Andrea Sparks.
“While Texas has become a leader in the fight against this heinous crime and is making great strides to help heal its victims, the beginning of the year is a good time to remind Texans that our work is not done and that we need all Texans to help us in this fight,” Sparks said.
Melissa Torres, director of the Human Trafficking Research Portfolio at IDVSA, said Texans can start by familiarizing themselves with the realities of human trafficking.
“The first step that we can all take is in realizing that human trafficking affects everyone, regardless of class, race, gender, education, etc.,” Torres said. “Even though there are populations that are at higher risk, exploitation and trafficking do not discriminate.”
Emily Freeborn, staff attorney at the Houston nonprofit Children at Risk, said an immediate way Texans can assist in the fight is by taking a closer look at the products they purchase.
“One way we can all help is by ending the demand for human trafficking and commercial sex,” Freeborn said. “That starts with purchasing products that are free from labor exploitation and not supporting sexually-oriented businesses.”
Although she considers Texas to be “leading the country in anti-trafficking legislation,” Freeborn was adamant in her belief that policy changes alone are not enough.
“This annual proclamation is an official reminder that we all have a part to play in stopping human trafficking,” Freeborn said. “We can’t just arrest our way out of this problem, we have to change the culture that creates it.”