At a press conference at Dallas City Hall this morning, Dr. Bob Sanborn, president and CEO of the Houston-based Children at Risk, ticked off the tragic statistics: Of the reported cases of human trafficking in the U.S., 25 percent of victims were from Texas. During the final few months 2007 alone, Texas had 30 percent of all National Human Trafficking Hotline calls -- and 15 percent of those came from Dallas and Fort Worth. (A 149-page study by Shared Hope International last September provided further details concerning children being trafficked as sex slaves in Dallas over the last decade.)
Sanborn estimates that in many cases, false friendships and romances lure these children into human trafficking within 48 hours. And the availability of young runaways and powerless immigrants provides a steady stream of workers in a clandestine and horrendous business; pimps and traffickers can quickly find a replacement as soon as police pick up a child for prostitution. Then, that child is viewed as a criminal, not a victim. Dallas, he said, might want to consider establishing residential shelters for runaways, such as Covenant House for homeless youth in Houston.
"These 12- and 13-year-old girls do not want to do this," said Lauren Embrey of the Embrey Family Foundation in Dallas. "They do not need to be cuffed and put in a cell for prostitution. We need to end looking at these children as criminals."
However, criminalizing children for prostitution may be the most feasible way to get them out of the human trafficking cycle. After becoming an offender, these children can live at Letot Center for up to 90 days while being counseled to self-identify as a victim, not a prostitute. Texas's current policy is to reunite these children with their parents, a policy Sanborn said should be reexamined.
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Human trafficking became a federal offense through the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. Three state representatives at the conference -- Rafael Anchía, Terri Hodge and Carol Kent -- have since worked to pass two pieces of legislation. One established a victim assistance program similar to those that fund crime victims' compensation; the other helps victims of this type of sexual exploitation go after their traffickers in court.