Shared Hope International just released its 2015 “Protected Innocence Challenge” report. Texas is one of only six states to score an “A” grade for the laws it has put into place to fight commercial child sex trafficking, reflecting state lawmakers concern about this growing national and international problem.
According to Department fo Justice estimates, each year more than 100,000 children are at risk for commercial sexual exploitation. The respected Children At Risk organization reports that the average age for children entering child prostitution is 13, and most will die within 6 to 7 years after being trafficked.
The U.S. Justice Department lists Texas is one the states where child sex trafficking is especially prevalent. That’s because the I-10 corridor is one of the primary human trafficking routes in the U.S.
In 2013, Texas had the second highest number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Due to its proximity to the border and seaports, Houston is the hub for all forms of human trafficking, reports the Justice Department.
Texas’s four largest cities—Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin—have large national airports that bring in thousands of visitors to national sporting events and conventions, many of whom seek out the commercial sex industry, including children.
Organizations like Shared Hope International and Children At Risk strive to prevent sex trafficking, restore sex trafficking victims, and bring justice to the vulnerable victims of sex trafficking.
What is Human Trafficking?
The term human trafficking brings to mind images of something akin to modern day slavery, and in some cases that assessment is correct. A more detailed definition would be the recruitment, harboring, transporting, or acquiring of a person for labor or services with the purpose of involuntary servitude, slavery, or forced commercial sex acts.
According to the U.S. Department of State, more than 20 million adults and children are currently victims of forced labor and prostitution in the United States and worldwide.
Texas Human Trafficking Laws
In 2011, Governor Rick Perry signed legislation to set stricter penalties for anyone convicted of human trafficking.
If a trafficker is convicted of child trafficking, it is a first-degree felony punishable by 5 to 99 years to life in prison plus up to $10,000 in fines.
Sex traffickers must register with the Texas Sex Offender Registry.
Judges can decide whether a trafficker serves consecutive or concurrent prison sentences.
If a convicted trafficker is charged for a second time, they face a first-degree felony of Continuous Trafficking of Persons, which is punishable by life in prison without parole.
Texas law enforcement officers are required to participate in 4 hours of human trafficking training.
While Texas has been recognized for its strong anti-trafficking laws, it has been criticized for its lack of protections and services for trafficking victims.
This past March, the Texas Legislature moved to correct this disconnect. Bipartisan lawmakers unanimously passed HB 10, an anti-human trafficking bill. The bill makes it easier to prosecute human trafficking and forced prostitution and to provide additional resources to victims.
The law specifically focuses on child sex trafficking and allows for the victims to be compensated by the business owners who exploited them.
This new law also eliminates the 10-year statute of limitation for prosecuting charges involving compelling children into prostitution. The repealed limitation provided that an indictment had to be brought within 10 years of the child victim’s 18th birthday.
In addition, HB 10 created a Child Sex Trafficking Prevention Unit that will coordinate its resources with other state agencies and extended the expiration date for the Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force until September 2017 in order to expand and continue its mission.
This legislative effort is consistent with the 2010 landmark decision by the Texas Supreme Court in In The Matter of B.W., which held that children under the age of 14 cannot be charged with prostitution because children under that age in this state cannot consent to sex.
Human Trafficking Defense
In Texas, human trafficking laws are severe and the penalties can be harsh for those convicted. In fact, you may feel like you are being punished even if you have just been accused and do not believe that you are guilty.
Both federal and state agencies have announced initiatives to investigate and prosecute both human and sex trafficking. The federal government has dedicated significant resources, in terms of time and money, into the anti-human trafficking effort and will significant efforts prosecuting these cases.
If you have been contacted regarding possible involvement in a human or sex trafficking case, do not speak to law enforcement officials without a lawyer. Do not fall prey to law enforcement tricks to cooperate without the help of a seasoned criminal defense attorney.
John T. Floyd is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and has over twenty years of experience representing client charged with serious crimes in federal courts in Texas and throughout the U.S. He knows that innocent individuals are sometimes wrongly targeted by law enforcement in these types of investigations and will put his years of experience to work to investigate your case and help you achieve the best possible result.