Thirty-three Texas counties were among 400 polled in a nationwide April survey of county sheriffs and police departments that revealed 48 percent of counties with more than 250,000 residents consider human sex trafficking a major problem. Nearly 90 percent of those counties said sex trafficking is a problem to some degree.
Houston’s proximity to the border and seaports make it a hub, according to Robert Sanborn, president and CEO of Children at Risk, an advocacy and research organization that focuses on human trafficking in Texas. “There are a lot of things we can do — raise awareness, go after traffickers and put them away, treat the victims,” Sanborn said. “But the only way to really end it is end demand.” Sanborn says Houston could decrease demand by continuing to push for stronger regulation of sexually oriented businesses such as strip clubs and massage parlors, where minors are often hidden away and victimized. Increased police presence on internet sites selling adult and escort services can also help decrease demand.
In his March 20 testimony before the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee in a hearing on human trafficking, Houston Police Department Chief Charles McClelland spoke of the seriousness of this issue in Houston and measures his department is taking to address it, including the formation of a human trafficking unit intended to consolidate police resources for better tracking, quicker response and more thorough, focused investigations.
“The best thing the public can do is call the city council and county commissioners, and be specific that these places need to be shut down,” Sanborn said. “The more pressure that gets put on the city council, the more action we see out of our police department.” And would-be traffickers and purchasers notice when the police take action. “If they hear people are getting arrested and the police are engaged in this, that really has an impact on demand,” Sanborn said. “We have to make it difficult and a shameful experience where you have to jump through lots of hoops and obstacles to buy and you’re afraid.”
Learn more at Ashley Hickey’s The Texas Tribune article: Houston a Focal Point as Advocates Target Sex Trafficking.