Tag Archive: Texas

Texas Bill Aims To Crack Down On Human Trafficking By Using ATMs

April 18, 2021

AUSTIN, Texas (KWTX) – State lawmakers have proposed legislation in Austin have proposed a bill that would crack down on human trafficking using automatic teller machines.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson from Houston proposed House Bill 2629, which would create a registry of so-called “white label” ATMs, those that are not owned or operated by financial institutions.

Rep. Thomson said illicit businesses are typically cash-only, so business owners will buy ATMs online, and place them in the lobby of an illegal massage location. “We’ve been fighting human trafficking in this state for a very long time,” Thompson said.

Not only that, said Caroline Roberts with Children at Risk said the ATMs become a money laundering tool as well. “They are taking the cash made from human trafficking and prostitution, and putting it back in the ATMs,” said Roberts, “For the customers to then withdraw to purchase more illicit sex.”

Read or watch the full story by Robyn Geske on KWTX.

How Do You Teach About Human Trafficking?

November 8, 2020

Noël Busch-Armendariz, Ph.D., LMSW, MPA, is a nationally recognized expert in sexual assault, human trafficking and domestic violence. She is a University Presidential Professor in the Steve Hicks School of Social Work. In 2019, Busch-Armendariz won the Hamilton Book Award, UT’s most prestigious literary prize, for “Human Trafficking: Applying Research, Theory, and Case Studies.” Her award marks two notable events: the first time that the award was given to an author of a textbook, and the first time, in at least 20 years, that it was presented to two winners.

After Noël Busch-Armendariz, director of UT’s Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (IDVSA), was promoted to full professor, it was suggested that she write a book about domestic violence, but she dismissed the idea. Although she understood that writing a book is often the next step for many social scientists after achieving tenure, her focus remained firmly on her research. On top of that, she was still a licensed master social worker (LMSW), so a textbook wasn’t in the cards.

She recalls thinking to herself: “It doesn’t seem necessary. You could fill a library full of books about domestic violence. I would not be making a real contribution, because I don’t think we need another book on domestic violence. But I’ll keep teaching it since I love the subject.”

What she had, though, was direct experience working on Central Texas’ first known human trafficking case: three victims, all minors, smuggled across the border from Mexico. State officials called IDVSA to the table to help, but no one — not even Busch-Armendariz — had developed the necessary screening tools for these exploitation cases.

“I remember being stunned, and it’s pretty hard for me to be stunned,” she says, thinking back. “I consider myself among the veterans in the work on violent crime. The cases I take as an expert witness are among the most complicated. But I remember it feeling unbelievable, like a Hollywood movie — not something that happens in my backyard.”

After that, she says she had two more thoughts. The first was that she realized she was seeing a particularly dark side of human nature where people would exploit others — even children. The second was that she had to do something. “Those minutes of being stunned and overwhelmed by just how dark the human spirit could be were indulgent. One more moment of inaction was too long.”

A team of more than two dozen experts and specialists from Central Texas came together — national and local law enforcement, prosecutors, social workers, child advocates and refugee resettlement workers. They formed a cohesive task force and looked at existing laws and social services to see if they would be adequate to meet the needs of these survivors.

These three children, she says, were just the tip of the iceberg.

To read the full story by Adrienne Dawson on UT NEWS: Click Here

Potato Slaves: The Cost of an H-2A Visa in Texas

September 8, 2020

Workers at a potato processing plant in Texas face abuse by their employers but choose to stay silent out of fear of losing their H-2A visas. Most are unaware they’re even victims of forced labor, or that the fees they’re required to pay to their supervisors for a visa are illegal. They don’t trust the authorities either, and fear retaliation for speaking out. It’s a reality faced by some 36,000 people a year in this border state.

Pablo suffered through countless hardships to avoid losing his temporary work visa and job at a potato plant in Dalhart, in the Texas Panhandle. One day, he said his boss, Xavier López Palacios, hit him so hard in the leg that he was left with a limp. On others, Pablo was pressured repeatedly to work faster.

Palacios, who was in charge of the warehouse until June, also shouted insults at Pablo and threatened to call immigration agents to deport him; under strict orders, Pablo worked up to 22 continuous hours. Once he was so tired that he accidentally fractured his hand. In spite of the doctor’s orders, López Palacios —who has denied the aforementioned accusations—wouldn’t allow Pablo to rest, he said.

Pablo’s name has been changed and some of his personal details were omitted to guarantee his and his family’s safety, and to avoid retaliation.

To read the full story by Patricia Clarembaux & Almudena Toral on Univision: Click Here

Local Human Trafficking Morphs In Face Of Pandemic, Affecting Kids At Home

July 16, 2020

SAN ANTONIO – Human trafficking is morphing in the face of COVID-19 and the trends are alarming advocates and experts in Bexar County.

Roy Maas Youth Alternatives Outreach Director Chuck Paul said the ability for traffickers to sell a person, for sexual actions or other means, was diminished following the COVID-19 outbreak and traffickers began ditching people they had trafficked onto the street.

“Prior to the pandemic, traffickers had what they call their stable of young people that they exploit,” Paul said. “After the pandemic hit and everything started to shut down, the ability for a trafficker to sell a person was greatly diminished because this person wasn’t making them money, they just got rid of them,” Paul said. “They dropped them off on the streets and said ‘you’re on your own.‘”

Paul said teens and young adults flooded the Centro Seguro RMYA drop-in Center and the LA Puerta Shelter for Trafficking Victims. Paul said he drives around town each week keeping in touch with at-risk youth.

“We reach out to them and let them know we’re here and we care about them,” Paul said. “We invite them to come into Centro Seguro where we’re able to give them a meal, a hot shower, a change of clothes, we stock them up with as much food as they could possibly carry, and engage them with our counseling center.”

According to Paul, once the state’s restrictions were lifted, traffickers started looking to “re-supply their stock of slaves,” so, time is of the essence.

“The traffickers have to re-supply their stock of slaves,” Paul said. “I’m calling it what it is. There’s a huge population of young people right now that are stuck at home, they haven’t been going to school. Their only social contact is social media and the traffickers are working hard on social media to target whichever child they can.”

Paul said traffickers look for in places where parents may not expect, like social media and online gaming platforms. Traffickers are combing the streets for runaways, homeless or foster youth, first offering them food, shelter and protection, then eventually making them have sex as payment, Paul said.

Paul said he tells parents they need to be aware of who their child is talking to on social media or multi-player video games and made aware of any person using a secret identity who is attempting to groom their child with gifts or attention on websites and web-based applications.

To read the full story by Courtney Friedman on KSAT: Click Here

Houston Now Requires Hotels To Train Employees To Spot Human Trafficking

June 29, 2020

Houston hotels and motels must train their employees on how to spot human trafficking and contact law enforcement under an ordinance approved by city council Wednesday.

The mandate also requires the businesses keep records of the training, which they must produce within three days upon request by the city. All 524 Houston hotels and motels also must post signs that list common indicators of trafficking, along with phone numbers for local and national law enforcement and other information.

To read the full story by Dylan McGuinness on The Houston Chronicle: Click Here

How Important Is Clemency For Trafficking Victims? Let One Tell You

April 26, 2020

Readers of this newspaper and its editorials will know the name Robbie Ann Hamilton. On Jan. 11, Human Trafficking Awareness Day, Gov. Greg Abbott granted Hamilton, a North Dallas survivor of sex trafficking lured into the life at the age of 15 while suffering from drug addiction, a full pardon for petty crimes committed decades ago while she was being sold for sex.

In announcing the pardon, Gov. Abbott rightly described Hamilton, now 58 and a brave advocate and mentor for victims of trafficking, as “a testament to the principle that our lives are not defined by how we are challenged. Rather they are defined by how we respond to those challenges.” She demonstrated, he said, “the internal fortitude to turn her life away from being a victim of human and sex trafficking and toward a life of redemption and improving her community.”

So, we ask, who better than Hamilton to understand the legal and moral significance of the governor’s Feb. 20 announcement that he, in coordination with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP), had established a “customized clemency application specifically for survivors of human trafficking or domestic violence”? Under the new protocol, Texas inmates and those seeking clemency will be allowed to cite their experiences as victims of sex trafficking, coercion and violence when requesting relief from the BPP.

Last week, Hamilton explained to us what a meaningful and historic change this new path toward clemency is for survivors like herself, but also in the way our state criminal justice system views trafficking victims, the great majority of whom are forced to commit the crimes that keep the global $150 billion human-trafficking industry — two-thirds of which is sex trafficking — in business.

To read the full story on the Dallas Morning News: Click Here

Three National Hotel Chains In Houston Sued For Promoting Sex Trafficking

January 23, 2020

Three sex trafficking victims have sued three major hotel chains in parallel lawsuits, claiming that the companies exercised gross negligence about on-site prostitution at Houston branches despite corporate policies that promote social responsibility.

The lawsuits, filed by advocates in December, contend that Hilton Worldwide Holdings, Inc., Choice Hotels International, Inc., and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, Inc. have not done enough to prevent sex trafficking at their franchises.

The three women were identified by police as trafficking victims at Houston hotels owned by these chains, lawyers said. Two were teenagers at the time; one was an adult.

“Traffickers have long capitalized on the hotel industry’s refusal to adopt companywide anti-trafficking policies, refusal to train staff on what to look for and how to respond, and failure to establish a safe and secure reporting mechanism, and they have exploited the seclusion and privacy of hotel rooms,” the lawsuits said.

Annie McAdams, a plaintiffs’ lawyer involved in the team effort, has built a reputation around tackling such cases, suing Facebook, Backpage, Salesforce and truck stops for their roles in promoting sex trafficking.

The recent cases accuse the companies of negligence and violations of federal and state laws that prohibit trafficking.

“What’s notable about these cases is it’s the first effort targeted at the parent hotels. The parent companies in state court have thrown up their hands and said we’re not responsible for anything that happens at these hotel locations,” said McAdams, whose firm is partnering with others on the cases. “But they make money on branding, licensing, advertising and franchise fees.”

To read the full story by Gabrielle Banks on The Houston Chronicle: Click Here

Sex Sells, But In Dallas, Police Are Relaunching The Vice Unit With A New Approach To Human Trafficking

January 7, 2019

A law enforcement official recently told us, in stark terms, what the reality is for victims of human trafficking here in Dallas. A person trapped into “the life,” the official said, is forced to engage in sex acts for money and is left with little hope and no sense of what it means to trust another person, experience joy, or even know friendship.

It is gratifying then to know that this week the Dallas Police Department will make news by unveiling part of a new strategy developed under Chief U. Renee Hall’s direction to curb the scourge of human sex trafficking in our community.

That approach will involve several elements. On November 28, the department is relaunching its vice unit, which was disbanded last year amid an internal investigation. It will also train officers on how to combat trafficking with new tools and a new philosophy. Put simply, that philosophy will focus on serving the victims of this crime — the people who are being trafficked, who are being viciously exploited and then cast aside.

The overarching philosophy has several important implications. Rather than simply engaging in a sting operation, arresting a woman who offers sex for money, and then charging and convicting her, the police department will pursue a strategy that has a good chance of moving that woman and others like her out of the life.

That strategy will involve working with local non-profit organizations as well as local, state and federal agencies to create a unified front against trafficking. The aim is to help those who are being trafficked regain control over their lives and build a better future for themselves. In some cases, this will mean those who have been trafficked will face prosecution. But in most cases, the approach is intended to ensure an interaction with law enforcement is an opportunity for a trafficked person to get out of a world of exploitation, degradation and, often, addiction.

To read the full story on Dallas News: Click Here