The Texas Legislature’s Joint Interim Committee on Human Trafficking took testimony today from various state agencies on their efforts to combat human trafficking and to discuss what state lawmakers can do about it.
Human trafficking is the act of illegally trading and selling humans into forced labor and prostitution. Several lawmakers said county and district attorney’s offices must collect better data on the number of human trafficking cases. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, said the human trafficking crimes are underreported by the public and that law enforcement officials may not be initially aware of a human trafficking crime until after an arrest for another crime.
“They respond to calls that may be prostitution, unpaid wages, domestic violence,” Van de Putte said. “When the investigations continue and the layers are peeled back, it is indeed the crime of human trafficking.”
Steve McCraw, director the Texas Department of Human Public Safety, explained that human trafficking extended beyond the smuggling of undocumented immigrants across the border. Gangs move victims to “stash houses” across the state where the individuals are then forced into labor, prostitution, or used to demand payments from their family members back home.
McCraw talked about victims from countries including China being charged up to $50,000 to be smuggled into United States – a debt that most likely could never be paid off and therefore “selling themselves into de-facto slavery.”
Last session, the Legislature passed legislation for stiffer penalties for human trafficking crimes and protection measures for minors who are victims of human trafficking. Shared Hope International, an organization that advocates for victims of human trafficking, gave Texas a grade of “B+” – the highest for any state – for its efforts to combat the issue.
According to David Boatright with the Texas Attorney General’s office, 633 reported incidents of human trafficking — 80 percent of those being in the sex trade – have been reported since 2007, leading to 157 arrests and 70 convictions. Those incidents included 701 victims, 429 of them were children.