Op-Ed: Doubling down on the fight against human trafficking

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There are so many challenges that need our attention right now – from health care, to economic recovery, to the epidemic of gun violence, to education and more. It’s daunting for a freshman legislator to know where to start. 

I will do my level best to make progress on all these issues, and I will start with the one I know best: human trafficking. Our approach this session should be two-pronged: We must come down harder on traffickers while increasing services to their victims and potential victims – particularly services that address the underlying vulnerabilities that traffickers exploit to create victims in the first place.

I have spent over a decade representing victims of human trafficking and many years prosecuting human traffickers in our criminal justice system. 

Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world and may soon outpace drug trafficking. According to the U.S. State Department, approximately 27 million men, women and children are victims of some form of human trafficking. Texas is home to some of the highest numbers of sex trafficking cases in the country, and Houston is considered a hub. 

The pandemic has made this crisis worse – one measure is the spike in crisis calls to hotlines – while limiting available services such as shelter beds due to social distancing requirements. In response to the economic shutdown, many traffickers have moved their activities online.

I am committed to bringing leadership on this issue to the floor of the Texas House, and doing all in my power to end the exploitation of one human by another. I will work to toughen penalties on the worst traffickers to keep them off the streets and increase services to victims and potential victims. Whether it’s vulnerabilities based on age, race, background, lack of family support or other circumstances, the common theme for every victim I’ve seen is vulnerability.

Our work this session on the big challenges raised by the pandemic – expanding healthcare coverage, rebuilding our economy, fully funding our public schools – will help address the underlying vulnerabilities that allow traffickers to exploit their victims. 

Specifically with respect to human trafficking, we must increase services to victims and prosecute exploiters, including the sellers who profit from the business and the consumers who pay for the abuse. We need to invest in a public-private partnership combining the best of the currently disjointed efforts. And we need to continue to raise awareness about this most uncomfortable topic and inconvenient truth. 

Ann Johnson is the Representative Elect for House District 134

Photo: annjohnson.com

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