AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A Texas city could soon be a nationwide model for stopping human trafficking and helping survivors.
Advocates point to the arrangement in the Houston area.
“They have a task force that is very integrated— 22 different departments working together like a fusion center just on human trafficking,” said U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas.
McCaul has prioritized efforts to combat human trafficking. He hopes other cities take note of the Harris County model. He has also introduced federal legislation that has gained bipartisan support, which would create a pilot program for local, state and federal training developed by the Texas Department of Public Safety to help identify exploited children and other young victims of trafficking.
“We used to think this was limited to countries like Thailand and foreign countries, but now it’s in our backyards,” he said Monday, explaining that trafficking is growing— not slowing— in Texas. “We are seeing it in high schools from Westlake High School to Katy High School, from Austin to Houston, to San Antonio, Dallas…”
McCaul hosted a roundtable discussion for advocates and law enforcement to collaborate on new ways to tackle trafficking in a victim-centered way.
“The child is not the criminal,” McCaul said. “We have to go after the perpetrator and that is the pimp, the trafficker, the businessman, the user, the buyer of these children. It is a very sick industry that I think it needs to be looked at from a prosecution standpoint very strongly and our judges to put these people behind bars for a very long time.”
When asked about how high-profile cases like Jeffrey Epstein influence the conversation, McCaul said it brings the discussion about people being mistreated to the forefront.
“There are buyers and users and some of them apparently in fairly prestigious places, which to me I find sickening,” McCaul said. “It’s really the awareness.”
Monday’s meeting featured representatives from state agencies as well as non-governmental organizations working to support trafficking survivors.
“Let’s make Texas a place that trafficking is no longer welcome,” said Debi Tengler, chief relations officer for Arrow Freedom Place, a recovery center for underage female victims of domestic child sex trafficking.
Andrea Sparks, the director of the Texas Governor’s Child Sex Trafficking Team outlined five main goals, which are: to prevent trafficking, identify those at risk, save survivors, support long-term healing and seek justice.
“This is a community issue, this is a public health issue,” Sparks said.
“There’s a special place in hell for people like this,” McCaul said of traffickers.