Center to End the Trafficking & Exploitation of Children
In 2006, CHILDREN AT RISK launched its Public Policy & Law Center which allows the organization to add legal expertise as a tool to improve the quality of life of Texas’ children and immensely expand its outreach. Specifically, CHILDREN AT RISK is now capable of drafting legislation to address the unmet needs of children legally. During Texas’ 80th Legislative Session, CHILDREN AT RISK researched, drafted, and passed four pieces of legislation which:
- Mandates that bars and nuisance hotels/motels post sign in English and Spanish about forced labor and include the number for the national human trafficking hotline number. Since this legislation was enacted, 34,273 licensed locations in Texas are legally required to post signs on human trafficking, resulting in 737 phone calls to the human trafficking hotline with 105 calls from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
- Expands the definition of human trafficking to include threatened actions and removes the requirement that the victim must be physically transported for the offense to be present. This enables judges to issue an official verification, or judicial finding, that a victim is truly a victim of trafficking, thus enabling victims to obtain a T-visa and be eligible for rehabilitative services. Since this legislation was enacted, 45% more T-visas and 146% more T-2 Derivative visas were granted nationally to victims of human trafficking and their families in 2007 compared to 2006 (279 T-visas in 2007 compared to 192 in 2006; 261 T-2 Derivative visas in 2007 compared to 106 in 2006)
More recently, CHILDREN AT RISK spearheaded a collaborative effort in preparation of Texas’ 81st Legislative Session that resulted in our Public Policy and Law Center drafting an omnibus bill (SB 89) that included eight significant changes to better combat human trafficking statewide. With the help of Senator Leticia Van de Putte and Representative Randy Weber, the bill was amended onto HB 4009 and was passed into law. As a result:
- A statewide task force will be established in the Office of Attorney General. This will allow for increased awareness and communication among the multiple state agencies charged with dealing with the complex issues surrounding human trafficking. The task force will also become the single point of contact for the state with federal partners. (Read the task force’s report to the 82nd Texas Legislature.)
- A four-hour training course for police officers who are licensed in 2011 or for those who pursue the next level of licensing will be mandated. The legislation also established a voluntary four-hour training course to be included in the officers’ continuing education curriculum.
- Other laws approved this session will inject compassion into the treatment of victims of prostitution, by recognizing that prostitution is most often an involuntary activity. The legislature created a defense to prostitution specifically for victims of human trafficking. Another change that passed last session will ease the burden of proof for prosecutors. No more will they be required to prove that the trafficker knew the victim was a minor. If the defendant is convicted of trafficking and the victim is a minor, the harsher penalty of a first degree felony will automatically attach. The 81st Legislature also created an avenue for human trafficking victims to sue their trafficker in civil court. Now, these victims can pursue monetary damages against their trafficker for the physical and emotional harm they suffered at the trafficker’s hands.
- Illegitimate business will take a huge hit after this legislation sessions ends, as well. The legislature gave Harris County ordinance granting authority to regulate illegitimate massage parlors in Harris County. This will create liability for those businesses who attempt to evade city ordinances by moving out of Houston.
- New legislation also requires sexually oriented businesses to maintain identification records, which allows for easier discovery and prosecution for business owners who exploit child sex workers.
- Finally, the 81st Legislature also passed a law that will allow municipalities to access to the National Crime Identification Center when a sexually oriented business applies for a license.
Building Public Awareness
In 2007, CHILDREN AT RISK launched a broad educational outreach campaign in Houston to improve and increase the identification of victims of human trafficking specifically domestic child sex trafficking victims. Since then, CHILDREN AT RISK has made significant strides in raising awareness on this issue in Houston, the Texas hub of human trafficking. In 2008, CHILDREN AT RISK partnered with Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition to launch a broad media campaign in Houston to raise public awareness of human trafficking or modern day slavery. This campaign consisted of 58 billboards, public service announcements on Univision’s six radio stations, signs on 25 taxi cabs, and two press conferences. The press conference in Houston received prominent coverage on the local CBS, FOX, NBC, ABC, Telemundo, and Univision television stations and coverage on Houston’s Public Radio and in the Houston Chronicle. The press conference in Austin resulted in prominent coverage in the Houston Chronicle, Austin American-Statesman, San Antonio News, and El Paso Times.
Prior to this campaign the media, public officials, and community stakeholders were relatively unaware that human trafficking was a significant problem in Texas. Since CHILDREN AT RISK’s outreach, it is apparent that key community stakeholders are more aware of the domestic human trafficking problem in Houston and across Texas. During this media blitz, the number of calls made from Houston to the National Human Trafficking Hotline increased from 43% of all calls made from Texas, to 58% of all calls made from Texas. This is a significant increase which we attribute to increased public awareness.
Educating the Legal Community
Planning for the Human Trafficking Summer Law Institute, an innovative new program to educate law students (who plan to practice in Texas) about human trafficking, is well under way and is on track to meet its goals. CHILDREN AT RISK has conducted a nationwide search to select highly qualified students to participate in this six-week long program starting June 29th. During Spring 2009, CHILDREN AT RISK hired a law student intern to work closely with the staff attorney and President to fully plan the Human Trafficking Summer Institute. The outline for the Summer Institute is as follows.
Students spent each morning at CHILDREN AT RISK and received training on human trafficking issues; researched the state of human trafficking across Texas; developed strategies for increasing the identification of trafficking victims and preventing new children from becoming victims; and wrote a publication on human trafficking in Texas. The publication, “The State of Human Trafficking in Texas,” is widely distributed and provides public officials and other legal and government professionals with data, background information, and a policy analysis on human trafficking. Each afternoon, the students traveled to local human trafficking service providers (Catholic Charities, YMCA, and the Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition) to gain additional knowledge about how victims of human trafficking directly are served.
In addition, CHILDREN AT RISK held four continuing legal education luncheon series during the month of July 2009 to educate the Fellows and local legal professionals on human trafficking. During the final two weeks of the program the Fellows traveled to Dallas and Brownsville to learn how the crime specifically impacts different communities, educate public officials of their findings released in the publication, and held a press conference to educate other community stakeholder on their research.
Safe House: Core Components and Recommendations
CHILDREN AT RISK was uniquely positioned to author, The Texas Safe House Movement: An Examination of Restorative Shelter Core Components and Recommendations. In 2010, CHILDREN AT RISK established the Safe House NOW Task Force which brought together key members of the Houston community who are strong advocates for the anti-trafficking movement in the Greater Houston area. The task force members included CHILDREN AT RISK, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, the US Attorney’s Office, and the Children’s Assessment Center, to name a few. The purpose for the creation of the Safe House NOW Task Force was to bring attention to the great need for rehabilitative shelter and services for domestic minor sex trafficking victims. At the time, a safe house for these child victims did not exist in the State of Texas.
As a result, CHILDREN AT RISK was approached by several different organizations and individuals who wanted to open and operate a safe house for child victims. These organizations and individuals sought guidance to learn more about child trafficking and the steps needed to open and operate a safe house.
The need for a source of information about the specific needs of domestic minor sex trafficking victims and the challenges inherent in serving this population became clear. In service of that effort, CHILDREN AT RISK received funding from the Texas Bar Foundation, and worked in partnership with Shared Hope International to conduct a survey of safe houses operating across the United States. Using the knowledge provided by current safe house operators, and with a close examination of the Texas laws regarding operating and licensing requirements, this publication will present and analyze the core components and considerations necessary to opening and running a safe house, and provide recommendations for consideration. From location, staffing, programming, and services to providing education, transitional care and building community relationships, future operators can use the information here to build upon the successes, experience and recommendations of those currently serving domestic minor sex trafficking victims.
To learn more about one of our latest projects, the Texas Human Trafficking Resource Database, please visit here.