Human trafficking— the exploitation of men, women and children for forced labor or sex by a third-party for profit or gain — is a global crime that’s found its way into Texas communities.
Tomi Grover, North Texas regional administrator of Gov. Greg Abbot’s Child Sex Trafficking Team, said Texas is on the forefront of combating this crime.
Grover discussed child sex trafficking during a joint meeting of the Cleburne Rotary Club and Zonta Club Johnson County on Thursday.
“I am so glad to be here today to talk to you about some of the work we are doing, and too kind of light a fire for you,” she said. “We are about to begin a protocol working group development here in Johnson County with [Children’s Advocacy Center of Johnson County Executive Director] Tammy King. You’re going to get some real pieces of information that will help you and get to know what we will be doing here locally.”
At any given time, there are 79,000 victims of youth and minor sex trafficking in Texas, according to the Office of the Attorney General.
“We really want to see an eradication of the heinous crime of sexual exploitation of children in the state of Texas, and across America as well,” Grover said. “We have a very robust framework for which we’ve been responding to this, that is basically a public health framework.”
Specifically, Grover said there are five areas the state is focusing on is:
• Protect: Assist agencies in leveraging and coordinating state resources to prevent child sex trafficking.
• Recognize: Coordinate with state and local law enforcement, state agencies and service providers to identify child sex trafficking victims.
• Recover: Facilitate collaborative efforts to recover victims.
• Restore: Coordinate with local service providers to create a customized package of services to fit the immediate and long-term rehabilitation and treatment needs including medical, psychiatric, psychological, safety and housing needs.
• Bring justice: Provide support for prosecutions.
Grover said children are being solicited on a regular basis for engagement for sexual purposes.
“All of our children are available online to predators in ways that we had not as children,” she said. “The exploitation can start pretty early. It’s become quite common for them and since a lot of our children our starting to carry cellphones with internet capacity at the elementary age, we’ve got to give them better tools, better support and some kind of wraparound support
“That technology piece continues to play a major role in seeing how children are groomed, how they are exploited and what kind of things happen to them.
All exploiters, Grover said, have some common threads about their behavior, but they may not look the same.
“Our exploiters are not necessarily what we would have in our mind about who are the recruiters, who are the ones who are trafficking these children and what do they look like,” she said. “It could be the person down the street, it could be a neighbor, it could be a lot of different things. It’s a matter of us starting to recognize the behaviors and what prompts this.”
Grover said since the AG’s Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force has been implemented, significant battles against human traffickers have been won, including:
• Coordinated with the federal government and California Attorney General’s Office to facilitate the permanent worldwide shutdown of Backpage.com, the largest purveyor of escort ads in the United States.
• Pled Backpage.com guilty to trafficking of persons and engaging in organized crime, and pled Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer guilty to money laundering.
• Developed and produced a powerful training video — designed to mobilize all Texans to “Be the One” in the fight against human trafficking.
• Trained more than 25,000 people in person across the state of Texas on human trafficking.
• Assisted in numerous prosecutions of human trafficking cases resulting in multiple felony convictions and 441 years of prison time for traffickers in Texas.
Grover encourages Texas residents to watch, “Be The One” at texasattorneygeneral.gov.