*Originally Posted 5/27/2016

The Texas House of Representatives only meets in session every two years. In the time between sessions, the various House committees study the issues on which the legislature will focus, and the interim charges handed down by the Speaker of the House determine those exact issues  in preparation for the upcoming legislative session. On May 19, 2016, CHILDREN AT RISK Senior Staff Attorney, Jamey Caruthers, testified before the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee of the Texas House of Representatives concerning the following interim charge:

Study the recently enacted Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act and determine how Texas’s anti-trafficking laws could benefit from the Act. In addition, examine strategies for tracking the demand for commercial sex in Texas and the feasibility of creating a statewide trafficking reporting system.

CHILDREN AT RISK was asked to testify before the committee to provide an overview of human trafficking, information on demand reduction as an anti-trafficking tactic, and how the federal Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act will impact Texas. The following excerpts from the full testimony provides insight into the important issues of data, demand, and the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act presented before the committee:

As one of the first states to pass human trafficking legislation way back in 2003, Texas is a leader in the fight against human trafficking and we continue to improve our legislative response to this crime. In doing so, we have learned a great deal.

We know that traffickers cannot ply their evil trade without a marketplace. And like most others, the marketplace for human beings is subject to the law of supply and demand. More and more, attacking the demand side of the commercial sex equation is being seen as the answer to eliminating human trafficking. But in order to address demand statewide, we must have data. Reliable data on the scope of human trafficking is notoriously difficult to come by. But by requiring all law enforcement agencies and departments to start reporting prostitution arrests segregated by buyers and sellers, along with anonymous demographic information, related crimes such as compelling and promoting prostitution and, of course, human trafficking to a centralized authority, we can do what no one else has been able to do yet—begin to collect and analyze the missing data. This is a phenomenal opportunity.

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA), a fairly recent federal law sponsored by Texas’s own Senator John Cornyn and Congressman Ted Poe is proof that the importance of addressing demand is gaining momentum nationally. In fact, a key provision of the JVTA is making buyers liable for human trafficking. But the JVTA does much more than this, it also makes legislative recommendations to states, and whether or not Texas adopts these recommendations will impact the funding we receive. I know that we sometimes look askance at federal monies in Texas—we’re fiercely independent—but the monies I’m talking about here are those that go directly to law enforcement agencies across the state in the form of community-oriented policing or COPS grants. Texas received nearly $7M in COPS funding last year. COPS grants are highly competitive, and they go towards training, funding and equipping our front-line fighters in the war against slavery.”

In conclusion, Mr. Caruthers urged the committee to prioritize legislative action to protect innocent victims of human trafficking:

“I would like to be able tell the committee that meeting these goals will be straightforward and easy, but it likely will not. Making the changes recommended by the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act will require a thoughtful and deliberative process to make them mesh effectively with our current trafficking laws. But it can be done. And it should be done. Not just for the federal funding but because Texas needs to begin to focus more on the victims of human trafficking. We were one of the first states to recognize and human trafficking as a serious problem and one of the first to address it through legislative action. In doing so, we have given law enforcement and prosecutors a formidable sword to wield against pimps and traffickers. Now we must forge a shield to protect the innocents.”

Texas has been a leader in fighting human trafficking, but more needs to be done from the standpoint of minors, especially concerning prevention, awareness and victim services. Click here to read the op-ed promoting a legislative agenda for children authored by CHILDREN AT RISK President & CEO, Dr. Bob Sanborn, and Senior Staff Attorney, Jamey Caruthers, in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on May 20, 2016.