HARRIS COUNTY, Texas- The Texas Governor’s office granted $4.4 million to law enforcement and prosecutors in Harris County Monday to aid in the ongoing fight against sex trafficking.
City and county leaders say the money will be used to improve services to victims of violent crimes and increase prosecution of traffickers and buyers.
Sheila Whittle, a sex trafficking survivor’s advocate with Free the Captives, said she was overjoyed to see resources put into the war against “modern day slavery.”
“Now that they’re investing more money in providing services, more case workers, more trauma-informed care, that means they will be able to identify these girls who are being arrested,” she said. “They’ll be able to see that they are a sex trafficking victim, and then decide ‘Yes, they actually need services. They don’t need to be criminalized.’”
The grant is emblematic of a sea change in the way sex trafficking cases are handled. In decades past, sex trafficking survivors – adults and minors – were often jailed for selling sex. In recent years, however, law enforcement’s focus has turned to the demand and not the supply. District Attorney Kim Ogg said that the bulk of women arrested for prostitution will be given services, not jail time.
Andy Kahan, director of the City of Houston’s Crime Victim Assistance program said that he’s been waiting for the resources to assist this population for decades.
“The intangible costs that victims have to suffer are lifelong, and it’s the least we can do to make sure that they are involved in the system,” he said. “This will restore faith in the criminal justice system.”
Not only do Harris County officials plan to better help the victims of sex trafficking; they say they plan to go after pimps, traffickers and buyers harder than ever before.
Sheriff Ed Gonzalez says his department has turned up the pressure on buyers and traffickers. In 2016, he says 708 buyers were charged and 1,405 sellers. However, so far in 2017, 971 buyers have been charged, along with 820 sellers.
“To all the offenders and predators out there, we’re going to continue to increase our resources, continue to build our collective efforts,” Sheriff Gonzalez. “In Harris County, we’re going to send a strong message: if you haven’t been caught yet, you will be caught. It’s just a matter of time.”
For more information and to contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline, click here or call 1-888-373-7888.