State Senator Joan Huffman Speaks Out on Human Trafficking in Houston and Texas' Response
Human trafficking is a horrible problem in this country. As we have reported many times on TexasGOPVote, Texas is one of the worst places for this issue, and Houston is frequently recognized as the national hub for human trafficking and slavery. Recently Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott released a human trafficking prevention manual for the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force. “As our experience has demonstrated, human trafficking can only be stopped through the coordinated efforts of many organizations at all levels – local, state, and federal as well as public and private," Abbott said speaking to the Task Force.
Today, Texas State Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston) spoke out in an Op-Ed in the Houston Chronicle where she reminded readers that "Houston has the unwanted reputation for being a hotbed for human trafficking." She explained that nearly 10% of all calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center come from Texas and the majority of those come from right here in Houston. Following is her Op-Ed reposted in its entirety with her permission:
Houston still a hotbed for human trafficking
By: Senator Joan Huffman
While there were many important issues debated in the recently concluded 83rd legislative session, one that is very important to me and should be to all Texans is the fight against human trafficking.
We shouldn't overlook the important bipartisan legislative accomplishments that made great strides toward eliminating this form of modern-day slavery. The Legislature passed no fewer than eight landmark bills aimed at protecting victims of human trafficking and strengthening prosecution of the perpetrators of this heinous crime.
Although many people might think this isn't a problem close to home, in fact, one study concluded that 25 percent of the nation's human trafficking victims are in Texas, and Houston has the unwanted reputation of being a major hub for human trafficking. Last year, 9.2 percent of all calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline came from Texas - and a majority of those calls originated right here in the Houston area.
You might mistake this for an immigration issue, but most of the human trafficking in Texas involves domestic cases. Although victims are diverse, the typical trafficking victim is an underage, American-born, English-speaking Anglo female, according to the Harris County Sheriff's Office. Make no mistake, human trafficking is slavery. When a girl runs away from home, or is lured by false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists - that's slavery.
Prior to the 83rd session, I served on the Joint Interim Committee to Study Human Trafficking. At hearings around the state, heart-wrenching stories of enslavement were told by trafficking survivors, many of whom were forced into prostitution when they were still children. Testimony from experts was instrumental in identifying issues relating to how we detect the crime, how to help and protect human trafficking victims and how to more effectively prosecute the traffickers.
Much of the human trafficking legislation passed during the last session came about as a direct result of recommendations made by our committee. I authored Senate Bill 12, which gives prosecutors powerful legal tools to use in cases where minors under the age of 18 are being trafficked for sex. House Bill 8, authored by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston - the companion to another bill I co-authored in the Senate - increases prison time for traffickers and also provides important victim protections.
Other legislation helps victims by providing them with the ability to recover actual damages and court costs from online prostitution and human traffickers. Those victims who seek shelter are now assured that the location of the shelter must be kept private, and they are now eligible for reimbursement for relocation under the Crime Victims Compensation Act. During the last session, we took a major step forward by acknowledging that underage victims of human trafficking are just that - victims. Now, there's legislation giving juvenile probation departments the ability to create a diversion program with treatment and compassionate services for human trafficking victims, arrested as prostitutes, who don't belong in the criminal justice system.
Federal legislative efforts are certainly worthy of praise as well. At a meeting in my capitol office in January, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and I discussed anti-trafficking legislation that he authored and was subsequently passed by Congress that strengthens federal efforts and state initiatives regarding these issues. Still pending before Congress is the End Sex Trafficking Act of 2013, authored by Cornyn and U.S. Reps. Ted Poe, R-Houston, and Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth. It aims to eliminate human trafficking rings by targeting the criminals who purchase sexual acts from the organizations and ensures that they are prosecuted as human traffickers.
September is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. There are numerous events this month educating and bringing attention to the horrific life these victims are forced to live. Most notably, the city of Houston, Houston Police Department and the sheriff's department, along with other local officials will kick off a public service campaign called "Shine a Light on Human Trafficking." The event will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday on the steps of City Hall. I plan to participate that evening and hope to see you there.
Huffman represents Texas Senate District 17, which comprises Brazoria, Fort Bend and Harris counties. Huffman currently serves as chairwoman of the Texas Senate Republican Caucus and as vice chairwoman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.