There are a lot of myths about human trafficking and Ballinger Rotary, along with Rotary International, the Concho Valley Workforce Development board and Angelo State University recently sponsored a symposium regarding the issue. Angelo State University (ASU) hosted the conference at the CJ Davidson Conference Center on February 1st.
The speakers were a Who’s Who of law enforcement from the university and the state. ASU police chief James Adams was there along with commissioner Henry “Hank” Whitman Jr. from the Department of Family and Protective Services were part of the panel discussion. The Deputy Criminal Chief of the Human Trafficking and Transnational/Organized Crime Section of the Texas Attorney General’s office, Kirsta Melton, was the keynote speaker at the event and was part of the panel discussion. The three speakers have a diverse background in law enforcement and criminal justice. Melton and Whitman are considered leaders in the field of human trafficking as they work to bring awareness to the subject and see that offenders are prosecuted and victims are given any help that they need.
Adams began his law enforcement career in 1986 and holds a Master Peace Officer certification with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. He has an associate and bachelor’s degree in the field of criminal justice and behavioral science from the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor. Prior to being appointed chief at ASU Adams served as a captain with the Baylor University Police Department. He supervises 16 sworn officers and 5 civilian personnel at ASU.
Whitman is a Texas law enforcement legend, having served 22 years with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). He spent his first few years as a trooper, then 10 years as a Ranger and later as the chief of the famous and legendary Texas Rangers. While chief of the Texas Rangers, Whitman created and supervised the elite Texas Ranger Reconnaissance Team and led border security operations. The Ranger Reconnaissance Team is a highly trained tactical team whose primary responsibility is to carry out specific missions, usually along the Texas-Mexico border region or wherever needed. The team is designed to conduct both overt and extended covert operations in remote areas where conventional law enforcement cannot operate. The team’s focus is to gather intelligence, conduct interdiction, and disruption of criminal activity usually associated with drug cartels. This work can also include taking down human trafficking opeartions.
Prior to becoming the Deputy Criminal Chief of the Human Trafficking and Transnational/Organized Crime Section of the AG’s office, Melton served in the Bexar County district attorney’s office. While in the DA’s office, from 2000-2014 she prosecuted cases in the Family Justice Unit, combating human trafficking, physical and sexual abuse of children and family violence. In 2012 she helped establish and lead the Bexar County DA’s Human Trafficking Unit. She has trained more than 15,000 people across the state on human trafficking and has testified multiple times before the Texas legislature. Her background in human trafficking cases and education is extensive and she’s been at the forefront of the state’s efforts to combat the problem.
One of the first steps to address the human trafficking problem is to dispel myths.
“Slavery doesn’t exist.” According to the Texas Attorney General’s office, 25,000,000 people worldwide are trafficked. Another 15,000,000 are in forced marriages.
Melton said that dispelling misinformation is critical, “Trafficking isn’t all about illegal immigrants, 18-wheelers and organized crime. A victim does not have to be moved to be trafficked. It’s a crime against the victim.”
In one case that Melton prosecuted a 12-year old girl was put in her own bedroom and her mother traded her for drugs from a dealer on repeated occasions. She never left the house but the case is human trafficking. In another similar case a young girl was held captive in a house by drug dealers and sold for sex to several buyers before she was able to escape.
Another myth is, “Trafficking is all about agricultural field work.” This is a prevalent myth involving trafficking. Some of human trafficking is about immigrants but many of the cases are about sex trafficking involving citizens in our own state. In another case Melton prosecuted a mother that sold her own 12-year old daughter.
A popular myth is that, “All traffickers look like television Pimps.” Melton helped execute a sting operation in Bexar County in 2013 that netted an 8th grade teacher, a civilian employee of the Bexar County Sheriff’s office (a security officer) and an EMT (paramedic). In the case of the EMT, he was in the ambulance and called the undercover officers about a girl. He was headed to the location when he got dispatched to an incident. Once he finished working the incident he got back in his ambulance and drove to the house where the undercover officers were waiting for him. He was asked why he answered the information regarding the operation and asked for the 16-year old girl, he replied, “Because she was hot.”
Traffickers come in all shapes and sizes and cover the state. Traffickers include:
Persons of all races Moms and dads Other relatives Women Teens/peers Intimate partners Professional pimps Neighbors and friends Gangs and criminal networks Employers Strip club owners and managers Another myth regarding human trafficking is, “It doesn’t happen in my hometown.” Trafficking cases in Texas have included the towns of Goldthwaite, Quitman, Lubbock, Abilene, Moore and many other cities, including more cases in west Texas. Multiple cases have been reported in the larger cities such as Houston, Dallas, Austin, etc. In the Quitman, TX case a grandfather trafficked his granddaughter for meth amphetamine. In Moor, TX the case involved a man who trafficked a 16-year old girl to the oilfields. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
There are four types of trafficking:
Adult labor Adult sex Child labor Child sex The law states that to prove trafficking, the prosecutors must prove, “force, fraud or coercion.” Anyone forced, coerced or given false information (such as being promised a job or gift) that involves sex or labor by another is considered human trafficking. If anyone knowingly benefits from a trafficking venture, they are also considered guilty of trafficking.
Trafficking a child is a first degree felony, punishable by 5-99 years in prison. Ballinger Rotary president Alvin Dunn asked Melton if she felt that the current punishments were appropriate. She said that she believes they are, “Life (sentence) is good. Offenders can get life sentences and multiple life sentences. We don’t need to make the penalty higher, what we need are prosecutors and special law enforcement units who are dedicated to investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases. We also need to ensure they’re funded. Modern day slavery is alive and well in our country. The offenders target the most vulnerable of our community. It’s a responsibility for all of us to be aware of the issue and to look for signs of human trafficking.”
Adams was asked what would happen if the situation occurred on the university campus, “We’d examine and investigate the incident and file any appropriate charges. We’d notify the district attorney’s office and the attorney general. Then there is the psychological aspect of it. We’d help with getting the student counseling and in any other way, such as helping with classes and security. We don’t take any incident lightly.”
According to Whitman, the number of human trafficking cases reported every year have increased, “The reason the cases are increasing is that people are being educated on human trafficking. They’re recognizing the signs and reporting them. Sometimes there are hundreds of cases reported in a single day.” Adams, the ASU police department and the ASU staff are committed to addressing the issue, “We need to do more in educating people about the problem. It’s gone on for years but it’s just gained traction the last couple of years because of awareness and education.”
In Texas, 79,000 minors and youths are trafficked for sex. 234,000 victims are trafficked for labor. That brings the total to 313,000 victims in Texas alone. The national human trafficking hotline has received 34,270 cases since 2007. A case can involve multiple victims and suspects. Human trafficking is profitable for the offenders because human trafficking generates an estimated $150 billion dollars every year.
Bringing awareness to the human trafficking is the key to combating it and identifying victims. Kathy Hubbard, the Rotary District 5840 governor was present at the symposium and said that she began the initiative 3 years ago, “I challenged local Rotary clubs to help with educating people about the problem. It’s important that we bring awareness to it. We had the first conference 2 years ago and then we had one last year and now this year.”
Children are the number one target of sex traffickers. Some of the red flags to be aware of are:
Changes in school attendance, habits, friend groups, vocabulary, demeanor, and attitude Sudden appearance of luxury items — e.g., manicures, designer clothes, purses Truancy (absence) from school Sexually provocative clothing Tattoos or branding Refillable gift cards Multiple phones or social media accounts Lying about the existence of social media accounts Provocative pictures posted online or stored on the phone Unexplained injuries Social interaction and schedule being strictly controlled by someone else Isolation from family, friends, and community Red flags to look for in adult sex trafficking are:
Contents of the vehicle/location Hotel receipts Drug-store receipts Lingerie Condoms Female personal hygiene items in a place of business High-end clothing recently purchased Hotel keys Rolls of money Prepaid credit cards Tattooing/branding Lack of eye contact Bruises, swelling, and/or redness Third-party control of the person’s schedule, identifying documents, money, and/or travel Sex ads linked to the individual’s pRhone number Some sex traffickers will tattoo their name or other symbol on a victim to show that he or she owns the victim.
If you suspect a human trafficking condition exists, report it to your local police department via 911, and/or the state attorney general’s office. The phone number for the national hotline is 1-888-373-7888. You can also text “Help” or “Info” to 233733. To report via email, the email address is Report@PolarisProject.org.