FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 8, 2008
The horrific crime of human trafficking is rapidly outpacing the scope and size of yesteryear's enslavement.
This modern day slavery involves the recruitment, harboring and transportation or obtaining of a person for involuntary servitude, slavery, sexual exploitation, debt bondage and other crimes against humanity.
"Human trafficking is a horrific crime that has lasting consequences for its unfortunate victims. The souls who fall victim to human trafficking are not only forced to work in deplorable conditions for no wages--but worse are all too often subjected to forced prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation," said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. "I am committed to continuing our efforts to improve victim services, increase criminal penalties for traffickers and expand law enforcement's ability to aggressively crack down on this degrading, inhumane criminal enterprise."
Approximately 17,000 victims are trafficked into the United States each year, and domestic trafficking of minors and women is a growing concern.
For example, an unsuspecting teenager may be enticed by someone offering a ride to the mall, a free meal or for runaways a place to sleep. These youths are often held captive, drugged and eventually required to pay for the drugs and boarding. They are then threatened and forced into prostitution to repay the human trafficker.
In response, the 80th Legislature directed the Attorney General (AG) to produce a report to help us determine what more is needed regarding existing laws and social services addressing the needs of human trafficking victims.
The "Texas Response to Human Trafficking" report differentiates between smugglers, often called coyotes, and traffickers: "Unlike smuggling, which is often a criminal commercial transaction between two willing parties who go their separate ways once their business is complete, trafficking specifically targets the trafficked person as an object of criminal exploitation."
While some victims enter the country illegally with a smuggler's help and the promise of a better life, others arrive with the necessary documents, but unknowingly rely upon traffickers for transportation and sponsorship. Still others are kidnapped or sold and forced to come to the United States.
A 2003 Caliber Associates study cited in the AG report states that "traffickers often prey on impoverished individuals who are frequently unemployed or underemployed and who may lack access to social safety nets, such as women and children from certain countries and cultures."
One of every five U.S. trafficking victims travels through Texas along Interstate 10, and nationwide nearly 20 percent of them are found in Texas. The U.S. Department of State's recent "Trafficking in Persons" report estimates that approximately 800,000 victims are trafficked across international borders yearly.
This problem has become so severe that the U.S. Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which stresses the need for states to punish offenders and care for victims.
As of June 2008, 39 states have passed a human trafficking law. Texas introduced one in 2003, making Washington and Texas the first two states to enact laws criminalizing human trafficking.
In 2007, Texas began requiring certain businesses licensed under the Alcoholic Beverage Code to post informational notices where human trafficking victims might see them, and also mandated that the national human trafficking hotline number be posted in overnight lodging establishments where crime has been prevalent. Although a good start, more must be done to stem this crime and ensure that victims are not further victimized once discovered.
It is difficult for average citizens or law enforcement officers to know whether employees of hotels, restaurants or private residences are actually human trafficking victims, especially when these individuals are terrified of reporting their captors or of escaping for fear of retaliation against them or their families. That is why I join the AG in calling for a statewide public awareness campaign, as well as specialized training of our law enforcement, rescue and health communities.
Funding is needed to train law enforcement officials to develop cases against human traffickers, as well as to assist victims. These dollars could equally train medical and rescue personnel to identify and help enslaved individuals.
To assist the rescued, resources must also be allocated for shelter and housing, medical, dental and mental health care, special services for child/juvenile victims and interpreter/translator services.
By raising awareness and modifying our laws and services, Texas will be better positioned to fight this modern day slavery and send a clear message to human trafficking criminals that they will be tracked down and prosecuted.
I look forward to working together with the Attorney General's Office and the Health and Human Services Commission--also producing a report on available services for trafficked victims at the federal and state level--to combat the crime of human trafficking through adequate prosecution, while assisting its victims to regain their lives and dignity.
As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385.