According to a 2016 analysis of cases reported to the National Center on Missing and Exploited Children, 86 percent of missing children suspected of being forced into sex work came from our existing child welfare system. In Texas, it is estimated that over 78,000 children who are sexually exploited had some type of contact with the child welfare system.
Gov. Greg Abbott has called for a statewide effort to help victims of child sex trafficking, even making it a campaign platform.
Unfortunately, in spite of all the big talk and promises, state lawmakers consistently miss opportunities to make their words a reality. Texas was one of the first states to pass a law defining human trafficking in 2003. Since then, lawmakers have continued to increase funding for investigations, stings and prosecution of trafficking criminals. Sadly, victims who are rescued — even those who testify against their pimps or traffickers — are still treated like criminals. Legislation was proposed in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and this year, too, to set aside funds for counseling, rehabilitation, emergency services, shelter and support of victims of trafficking; however, these bills and proposals are sadly underfunded by the state. When victims are rescued, there are no facilities available to support them in the middle of the night and provide counseling and support services.
Five actions would make an impact on trafficking in Texas:
1. Set aside state funds for victims’ services.
2. Set aside more state money to help vulnerable children in general.
3. Amend necessary laws to stop treating sex-trafficking victims like criminals.
4. Create a better system for tracking and finding missing children.
5. Create a statewide approach to dealing with sex trafficking.
Lawmakers say they are skeptical that more money would improve the state’s ability to serve the needs of exploited victims and, as always, finding funds can be difficult and contentious. Legislators have been trying for almost a decade to simply establish shelter and support for victims of trafficking. But without funding, those laws are just empty shells. It is time for lawmakers to bring life to those protections — by funding them.