Together as Texans, I truly believe we need to openly discuss an atrocious, evil crime that has plagued our great state for far too long.
For the past two years, the State of Texas has recognized January as Human Trafficking Prevention Month as a result of a law I was honored to author during the 2015 legislative session. In passing this legislation, my passion was to bring greater awareness in order to educate individuals on how to avoid becoming a victim of this horrific criminal act while also empowering each of us with the ability to prevent it.
Through working with area advocacy groups such as New Friends New Life, I was sickened to learn the extent of this modern day form of slavery. An estimated 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States on an annual basis and the number of U.S. citizens forced into this unspeakable crime within our country is estimated to be even higher. The U.S. State Department estimates that 300,000 children are at risk of being trafficked domestically on an annual basis.
Tragically, Texas currently ranks as the 2nd worst state in the nation for this violent and despicable crime. In Dallas alone, the sex trade is a $99 million dollar annual crime industry with an average of 400 trafficked teens on the streets each night. Sadly, these profound statistics aren’t just unique to Dallas, but rather represent a disturbing trend that has no geographical, socio-economic, or racial boundaries and also is hitting us right here in our very own neighborhoods.
But together, we are already changing these disturbing statistics and making Texas a leader in the fight and the beacon of hope for other states as they address this crime head on.
Just over two years ago, the Texas Office of the Attorney General under Ken Paxton developed the Human Trafficking and Transnational Organized Crime Section. Now, the OAG has released their incredible, eye opening campaign “Be The One” to educate the public on the signs of human trafficking. The film, which can be viewed at: texasattorneygeneral.gov/human-trafficking, also includes testimonials from individuals that never thought human trafficking could happen in their community. The truth of the matter is that it is taking place right where you are and we need to be able to recognize it.
As a partner in the fight against this heartless underground activity, the Texas Legislature has also persevered in making tremendous progress in awareness, prosecution, and trafficking victim assistance. Over the past two legislative sessions, I authored several bills including legislation to increase penalties for those that solicit prostitution and persons with multiple convictions of possession of child pornography, as well as legislation to provide an avenue for innocent victims to overturn convictions of prostitution that they were forced to commit.
However, make no mistake, more must be done to eradicate this problem, and I vow to fight this inhumane criminal activity until its completely eradicated.
On a personal note, in December of 2014, my Denton County House colleagues and I were participating in a public forum as part of our preparation for the 84th Legislative Session. The issues that were discussed ranged from economic development to strengthening border security and providing a strong education system. Near the end of that forum, a brave young woman named Tonya Stafford stood up and asked the audience about their awareness of human trafficking. The room fell silent as she courageously identified herself as a victim who was literally sold as a youth and robbed of her innocence. I cannot describe the passion and determination that further ignited in me personally that day as I had then been working for several months on developing policy to bring this issue to the forefront of the Texas Legislature.
Today, I hope you will be more informed, inspired, and committed to being a part of the solution as government cannot do it alone. We need more people willing to shine light on the darkest of topics such as this and join the frontlines in the critical fight to save countless, precious, innocent lives.
I strongly encourage you to view “Be The One.” Although many of us understand the reality of human trafficking few of us are willing to admit the magnitude of the situation. Unfortunately, for many individuals, human trafficking is their life, but it doesn’t have to be their life story.
As always, it is an honor to serve you in the Texas House of Representatives. If you would like to share a thought, please feel free to contact me at my Capitol office at 512.463.0688 or by email at [email protected].