A Texas lawmaker aims to crack down on human trafficking through proposed legislation that would enforce stricter penalties on individuals “engaging” the services of sex workers who are human trafficking victims.
State Representative Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) announced this week he filed House Bill 934 to tackle the “demand side” of this plaguing problem, meaning the legislation targets those people who buy sex services from a prostitute who is the victim of human trafficking. Under HB 934, this offense would be a second degree felony and punishable by two to 20 years in prison.
“The terrible truth about human trafficking victims is that a large portion are forced into prostitution with the average victim’s age ranging from 12 to 14 years old,” stated Shaheen in a prepared statement Tuesday. “The people that engage prostitutes are supporting the human trafficking trade and increasing demand.”
Shaheen noted, “We have to attack the problem from every angle and taking a hard-hitting approach like this will drastically reduce human trafficking in Texas.”
Reportedly, the worldwide scourge of human trafficking is an estimated $32 billion business. In 2016, the Global Slavery Index projected 40.3 million men, women, and children were victims of modern slavery internationally. Roughly 400,000 people in the United States were trafficking victims, according to the index.
In 2017, the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault at the University of Texas (IDVSA) accounted for than 300,000 human trafficking victims in the Lone Star State. Almost 80,000 of them were minors, including children, all victims of sex trafficking. IDVSA estimated underage sex trafficking cost the state approximately $6.6 billion.
Last year, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received 14,117 calls of suspected instances of human trafficking nationwide and, subsequently, reported 5,147 human trafficking cases. Of these cases, 3,718 were sex trafficking; 602, labor trafficking; 516, unspecified trafficking; and 310, sex and labor. Recently, Breitbart News reported the hotline ranked Texas second to California in the number of reported human trafficking cases last year. Texas reported 455 and California, 760, down from one year earlier when the hotline accounted for 792 cases in Texas and 1,305 in California. Florida placed third in 2018 with 367 cases, and 604, in 2017.
The hotline, operated by Polaris, a nationwide anti-human trafficking project, identified that of the 455 cases reported in Texas last year, 59 were labor trafficking, 323 were sex trafficking, 45 were sex and labor trafficking, and 28 were unspecified trafficking. Of the victims, 383 were female, 69 were male, and less than three were deemed gender minorities.
Shaheen’s bill comes at a time when anti-human trafficking efforts are a strong state priority. On Tuesday, advocates and lawmakers rallied in Austin at the Texas Capitol to support strengthening anti-trafficking laws. Then, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced his office will fund more than $18 million in grant awards to state, local, public, and private organizations to prevent and combat human trafficking of adults and children, investigate and prosecute traffickers, recover victims, and help survivors to heal.
In 2016, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton formed the Human Trafficking and Transnational Organized Crime Section (HTTOC) to combat human trafficking statewide. HTTOC, along with federal and state partners including the California Attorney General’s office, facilitated the worldwide shutdown of Backpage.com, the largest purveyor of escort ads involving sex trafficked workers. Paxton’s office also has assisted in numerous Texas human trafficking prosecutions.
“I have always made the fight against human trafficking a top priority,” said Shaheen. “We will do everything we can to ride our society of this horrific practice.”