Demanding Justice

August 8, 2013

Eight years ago, I met a 19-year-old girl while traveling in Moldova – a small, former-Soviet country in Eastern Europe. This young girl was abducted while working in a Turkish marketplace and sold into sex slavery. After some time, she gained the courage to escape and climbed out a seventh-story window to get out of the building where she was being held hostage. On the sixth-story balcony, she slipped.

Turkish authorities found her lying on the street, her back broken. She was paralyzed and in need of spinal surgery, a diagnosis that in Moldova meant she’d never walk again. Working with the Texas Back Institute, who took her case free of charge, I was able to arrange for her to be brought to Texas to receive the medical treatment she needed to walk again.

Sadly, this teenager’s story of abduction is shared by at least 800,000 men, women and children worldwide every year. Roughly 75 percent of these victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation, while others are trafficked for labor.

Sometimes issues that span across a number of countries and exist on nearly every continent become easy to pass off as an international problem, not a local one. Unfortunately, here in Texas, human trafficking is very much a local issue, as potential victims in border states are more vulnerable to being pulled into this terrible industry.

In Texas, 740 girls a month under the age of 18 are documented as being marketed for sex, according to the Dallas Women’s Foundation, and North Texas has been identified as a key hub for traffickers moving victims through the Interstate 35 corridor.

Our law enforcement has worked hard to combat this illicit trade, but more can be done with the support of the public and Congress.

Current human trafficking law provides resources for victims’ services and gives prosecutors the tools to go after human traffickers. But very little is said about those soliciting the services of a trafficked individual.

In economic theory, we discuss the importance of the supply and demand relationship. If the demand wanes, so does the supply. This concept can also be applied to human trafficking, as buyers create demand and thereby drive this criminal business. President George W. Bush stated during a Justice Department training on human trafficking, “We cannot put [human traffickers] out of business until and unless we deal with the problem of demand.”

Last week, I joined three of my colleagues to introduce bipartisan legislation that addresses human trafficking from the demand side, allowing those who solicit, patronize, obtain, or pay for these illegal services to be prosecuted.

Everyone in our community can be a part of combating human trafficking. I encourage you to learn the red flags that may indicate human trafficking, volunteer to do victim outreach, or talk to your friends and family about the issue. Your voice can make a difference.

As a co-chair of the House Human Trafficking Caucus, I have seen the permanent devastation this cycle brings to its victims and their families. No one thinks their daughter could be a victim of sex trafficking, but it is happening daily in our Metroplex.

One-third of our city’s homeless population, who are most susceptible to human trafficking, are young people and the National Human Trafficking Hotline receives more calls from Texas than any other state – including hundreds from the DFW area.

By increasing public awareness, strengthening law enforcement tools, and bringing everyone involved in the selling and buying of human beings to justice, we can move toward eradicating the misery and suffering caused by human trafficking.