May 9, 2016, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced a plan to reduce human trafficking in the city. Here’s a brief overview of how he’s doing.

The Port of Houston is the ninth largest port in the United States. Just as efficiently as goods can be transported there, so can victims of human trafficking. Thus, our city has the highest number of human trafficking victims in the United States. Big events like the Super Bowl, the All-star Game, and the Olympics bring money to the city, but also give “johns” – crime bosses who work as pimps or kidnap people to sell – opportunities to make more money through the buying and selling of human trafficking victims.

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery.

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery.

Not every sex worker we see on the streets or in the darker realms of the Internet have chosen to participate in sex work – quite a few have been forced to work, threatened with physical harm, death, or harm to their families if they resist. Oftentimes, we will not be aware of human trafficking activities because they are hidden under the guise of a strip club, massage parlor, or other beauty/entertainment establishments called “fronts.”

Last year, Mayor Sylvester Turner vowed to clean up the human trafficking mess, saying, “We will do all we can to deter human trafficking, arrest those who buy and sell humans, and rescue and restore victims…” He promised that, under his leadership, the city would continue to crack down on human trafficking as long as he was in office. One year later, 51 out of the 91 planned tactics have been completed:

  • The Mayor’s Office increased awareness about human trafficking through its “Watch for Traffick” media campaign on television, radio, billboards, 950 METRO buses, and 50 cabs.
  • The Massage Establishment Ordinance was strengthened to more easily inspect illicit establishments and streamline the process of securing warrants for those establishments, resulting in a 13% decrease of open establishments.
  • A municipal court diversion program was created to connect current and potential victims of human trafficking with free civil legal service providers.
  • The Mayor’s Office piloted and extended a program to connect potential human trafficking victims with temporary shelter.
  • The Houston Area Council on Human Trafficking was developed to refine indicator questions to identify victims in populations that often intersect with human trafficking, such as victims of domestic abuse and the homeless.
  • A task force developed four industry-specific outreach cards in multiple languages to distribute across Houston. The cards were tailored for victims employed in cantinas and massage establishments and victims working on the street.
  • The Houston Area Council on Human Trafficking developed partnerships with taxi drivers to educate them on victim identification.

Thus far, the City of Houston has spent almost $150,000 on the initiative to rescue human trafficking victims. In the future, the Houston Area Council on Human Trafficking hopes to increase its efforts and educate other cities on how they can do the same. The council plans to work with the results of its findings last year to institute unique touchpoints around the city where victims are typically found.

For more information on what the Mayor’s Office has done thus far and how you can get involved, visit www.humantraffickinghouston.org.

How to spot a victim of human trafficking.

How to spot a victim of human trafficking.

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