The state of Texas has one of the main trafficking routes in the United States. Texas authorities have recognized the problem and have established some of the toughest laws against human trafficking found in the states..
From this Texas Tribune story, writer Julian Aguilar sheds some light on the problem and also explains how those laws can sometimes go too far.
Human trafficking now exceeds all illegal enterprises except for illicit drug and weapon smuggling in terms of profits derived, which can be as high as $32 billion annually. And Texas has the dubious distinction of sharing a large slice of that pie.
The state is home to one of the busiest routes for trafficking humans: the stretch of Interstate Highway 10 that runs from El Paso to Houston. The most recent data from 2007 indicates 30 percent of calls made to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline to report cases of alleged human trafficking were made from Texas, according to the Polaris Project, a Washington-based nonprofit that operates the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline and lobbies for stronger state and federal anti-trafficking legislation.
Legislators and law enforcement officials aren’t sitting idly by, however. Texas has a reputation as one of the country’s leaders in attacking the problem: The Polaris Project considers the state one of the most proactive in curbing the practice, as it meets a majority of the 10 criteria the group has set forth as a barometer to measure success. Penalties for trafficking children here are also among the most severe in the nation. A person found guilty of pimping a child, which is what happens to the majority of children trafficked, faces a second-degree felony charge, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Pimping an adult, by comparison, is a Class A misdemeanor.
Texas’ record of being tough on crime has often meant harsh penalties for child victims of human trafficking, as they have historically been charged with criminal acts of prostitution despite being forced to engage in sexual acts against their will. But lawmakers are encouraged by a Texas Supreme Court ruling in June that reversed a lower court's decision to charge a 13-year-old female with a misdemeanor crime of prostitution.
In a 6-to-3 decision, the court ruled in The Matter of B.W. that a minor child, known only in court documents by her initials, could not be charged with prostitution due to her age. The initial charge of prostitution was filed after the teen consented to sex with an undercover officer during a sting operation in Houston. She received 18 months of probation, a sentence that was upheld on appeal before being overturned by the high court.
“The Texas Supreme Court recognizes that Texas will treat these [children] as victims and not offenders,” says Houston attorney Ann Johnson, who was appointed to represent B.W. on appeal. “This is the first case like it in the nation, so Texas is leading the way and saying that we’re going to address this issue and we’re going to protect these children.”