More and more people are becoming familiar with the term human trafficking. Newspaper articles and television reports have helped bring awareness to this issue. Unfortunately, this problem exists in the shadows and is dependent upon secrecy for survival. Access to hard data is paramount to researchers and agencies in effectively dealing with human trafficking. In recognition of this current data void, CHILDREN AT RISK is developing a comprehensive statewide human trafficking resource database. This database will enable organizations, agencies, researchers and various stakeholders to communicate, collaborate, and access information to better form a unified anti-human trafficking front in Texas.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act [TVPA,] established in 2000, has been instrumental in bringing societal awareness to this issue. The TVPA established a clear definition of human trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, providing or obtaining of a person by means of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of a commercial sex act or labor services.” This definition enabled human trafficking researchers to estimate that between 14,500-17,500 individuals are trafficked into the United States each year (U.S. State Department) noting that the average age of entry is between 12-14 years.
In more recent years, researchers have found Texas to be a hub for human trafficking. Since January 1, 2007, the Bureau of Justice Assistance reported 554 human trafficking investigations and the National Human Trafficking hotline reported that 13.41% of calls where from the state of Texas. These numbers have prompted Texas to lead the way with innovative and unique programs that address human trafficking issues at diverse levels. This unique problem requires efforts at multiple levels, utilizing a variety of organizations and systems to fully address the issue.
Many organizations in Texas are working on multiple levels to address this issue. In North Texas, the Dallas Police Department has developed an innovative method, creating a program which tracks runaways and targets those “at-risk” of being trafficked. The criminal justice system in Waco, Texas provides another innovative approach, creating a “john school” aimed at educating and changing attitudes of first time offenders charged with soliciting prostitution. The nonprofit group ACH Family Services in Dallas participates in direct outreach that targets individuals involved in the issue. In addition, many communities are seeking to increase awareness through creative projects such as the Human Rights Division at SMU by facilitating a service learning program with local high school students. At the legislative level, the Texas legislature has enacted policies which increase the punishment of perpetrators. Through this legislation, Texas leads the nation in human trafficking penalties.
Forming a unified front around prevention, protection, prosecution, and programs is crucial in the fight against human trafficking. Collaboration and education will decrease replication of efforts and foster communication around successful practices and programs. Identifying effective strategies designed to eradicate major population health issues, such as public health efforts targeting seat belt laws or decreased tobacco use, can serve as guiding models.
Through the statewide human trafficking resource database, CHILDREN AT RISK will provide a framework for cooperation between diverse organizations, agencies, and researchers, to establish a well informed and unified front against the battle of human trafficking. If you are interested in learning more about the human trafficking resource database and how you might help, please contact Audra Kirkendall with CHILDREN AT RISK at 214-599-0072 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CHILDREN AT RISK is a non-partisan research and advocacy organization dedicated to fixing poor public policies and systems that affect children. For more than two decades, CHILDREN AT RISK has been researching the obstacles our children face, as well as improving our state’s future by driving macro-level change through community education, collaborative action, evidence informed public policy and advocacy for our youth. To learn more visit www.childrenatrisk.org.