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Watson: Texas law facilitates sex trafficking

Dec. 4, 2017 at 11:52 p.m.


In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, I expressed hope Texas would not forget other victims: its 79,000 victims of child sex trafficking, and the state's underfunded response. Since then, Texas has stepped up its game, hiring its first ever director of human trafficking prevention in the Department of Family and Protective Services and providing $4.4 million to combat sex trafficking in Harris County. It even earned an "A" in Shared Hope International's annual report on state child sex trafficking policies. That said, Texas' "A" is not equivalent to 100 percent.

According to Shared Hope International, a leading anti-trafficking organization, Texas scored a 93.5 percent for its child sex trafficking law. However, despite being one of only eight states to receive an "A," Texas also continues to be one of 27 states to criminalize a child for prostitution offenses. Even though the age of consent is 17, a child can still be penalized for having sex for money in Texas.

The traffickers, or "pimps," exploiting these young victims also are aware Texas is failing. One way traffickers control their stable, or the group of victims under their control, is through psychological manipulation. They tell them the law cannot protect them; that they will be penalized for their criminal acts. And, unfortunately, they are right. Texas child sex trafficking law therefore plays a role in facilitating the continuation of this criminal enterprise.

In addition to recognizing the need to decriminalize child prostitution, Shared Hope International's report highlights a few other problems with the state's child sex trafficking law:

Texas law permits the promotion and selling of child sex tourism.

It permits traffickers to build a defense around a minor's willingness to engage in the commercial sex act.

It does not require delinquent child sex trafficking victims to participate in the governor's care coordination program to avoid adjudication. And it doesn't allow trafficking victims to seal their juvenile criminal records unless they complete that program.

It prevents child sex trafficking victims from receiving crime victims' compensation money if they committed an offense related to trafficking victimization and do not substantially cooperate with law enforcement.

Accordingly, Texas' less-than-perfect score indicates the need to build a stronger legal framework to protect children from exploitation. The "A" grade received from Shared Hope International is a valuable marker of policy success, but we cannot become complacent with the current sex trafficking law in Texas. We must demand change.

Otherwise, 79,000 children remain exploited in Texas' sex trafficking industry.

Otherwise, the traffickers win.

— Katie Watson is project manager with the Jenesse Center in Texas, where she develops holistic services for victims of sex trafficking. She previously produced research for the FBI's Houston office to improve its sex trafficking response.

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