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Battling human trafficking in Texas

By Dawn Burleigh

The Orange Leader

AUSTIN – Governor Abbott, on Friday, proclaimed January 2018 as Human Trafficking Prevention Month in Texas. In addition to issuing this proclamation, Governor Abbott encouraged all Texans to learn more about the risks and indicators of human trafficking and to do their part to help end these horrific crimes.

“The State of Texas will not tolerate the inhumane practice of human trafficking,” said Governor Abbott. “Texas’ Child Sex Trafficking Team has implemented a number of statewide initiatives to help bring an end to the horrendous practice of child sexual exploitation, but we still have much work to do. I want to thank our state’s law enforcement officers, faith communities, businesses, foundations, and advocates who have partnered with our efforts to address this growing problem, and I especially want to express my gratitude for the incredible survivors who are sharing their voices to help others; their resilience is a testament to the Texas spirit and a constant inspiration to us all.”

The Child Sex Trafficking Team (CSTT) was formed during the 84th Legislature with the of passing HB 10 and HB 1446. The Legislature also appropriated $5.67 million to support CSTT’s work, the majority of which will be used to fund victim services.

In fiscal year 2017, CSTT began building regional models of survivor care, starting in Houston and North Texas. These are the two largest urban areas with the most trafficking activity and coordinated community responses to child sex trafficking, according to the State of Texas website.

CSTT mission is:

  • Protect children by building their awareness of and resilience to child exploitation and curbing demand for child sex trafficking.
  • Recognize child sex trafficking in all its forms by raising public awareness.
  • Recover survivors through concerted system efforts.
  • Restore survivors through immediate and long-term services and supports they need to recover.
  • Bring justice for survivors by holding traffickers, buyers, and those who profit from trafficking accountable.

One group is working to end human trafficking in Texas, Elijah’s Rising. Headquartered in Houston in a building that once housed an Asian brothel called Angela Day Spa, the group offers prayers, raise awareness, intervention and aftercare for those enslaved in human trafficking or sexual exploration.

Using van tours and the Museum of Modern-Day Slavery, a 1,000 square foot exhibit that combines information and artifacts to tell the story of sex trafficking, the organization brings awareness of the situation to others.

It was through meeting people involved with Elijah’s Rising, Laura Aranda, of Bridge City, became aware of human trafficking along Interstate 10.

“It’s really incredible and I am thankful he is bringing attention to this and taking it seriously,” Aranda said about the proclamation.

“People are skeptic that it is not happening in their neighborhoods, but it does,” Aranda said.

Aranda also holds workshops to help residents know the signs of human trafficking and has a panel for a question and answer session.

“If you see something, say something,” Aranda said. “Sometimes people don’t know what they are seeing, so this proclamation is a good thing to bring awareness.”

In the proclamation issued by Abbott on Friday, the governor thanked state’s service providers, law enforcement officers, and prosecutors for their dedication to combating this terrible crime. He also applauds the faith communities, businesses, foundations and other advocates who are stepping up to make a difference.

‘I especially want to express my gratitude for the incredible survivors who are sharing their voices and their stories to help others; their grit and resilience is a testament to the Texas spirit and a constant inspiration to us all,’ the proclamation reads. ‘At this time, I encourage all Texans to learn more about the risks and indicators of human trafficking and to do their part in helping end this atrocity. The reality of this evil enterprise can become overwhelming; however, if the past year has taught us anything, it is the fact that Texans will not be overcome in the face of adversity. Together, we can protect the vulnerable, help victims find healing and bring offenders to justice.’