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Strengthen Anti-Human Trafficking Laws

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Fighting Human Trafficking (HT)

Human Trafficking is real and it is infiltrating all parts of our communities. It is often quite different than the stereotypical examples you’ve heard about for years (stereotypes like: Hispanic immigrants smuggled into the country under false pretenses and forced to work in some cantina/brothel, runaway girls from broken homes picked up off the streets and trapped into a life of prostitution, Asian girls smuggled to the U.S. and forced into the back rooms of nail salons, etc).

Brief Background

Human Trafficking impacted my family in May of 2016. We aggressively fought back, hired professional help, and (by the grace of God) found and recovered our daughter. Most people who find themselves in the same situation are not so fortunate.

What I Have Learned

Human trafficking (specifically trafficking young girls into commercial sex acts) has grown explosively in recent years particularly in Texas. There are a few key reasons.

  • Demand is increasing. In the past people paying for the girls had to cruise unsafe street corners, enter sleazy clubs, or rent dirty hotel rooms. The new trend is for pimps to deliver girls right to your front door. The offending buyer never has to show their face or leave their home. They simply have to give a credit card number online. The traditional methods of trafficking are just as prevalent as they ever were. The new and more sophisticated approach is harder to stop and is poised to continue fueling the explosive growth.
  • Traffickers have more access to our teens, and they are getting better at their grooming methods. Almost every teenager is continually connected to social media. The traffickers constantly troll those sites/applications to identify susceptible teens. They have a network of contacts patiently coercing (brainwashing) their targets. Many girls are snatched away into a dark existence right after their 18th birthday while they are still completely naive about the world, but legally they are adults.
  • Yesterday’s drug dealers are today’s sex traffickers. Why?
    • The sex traffickers (pimps) today make as much if not more money than drug traffickers.
    • Law enforcement is not seriously pursuing the HT criminals.
    • HT is difficult to prosecute even when law enforcement pursues the criminals because having the “product” in your possession is perfectly legal. If someone gets caught with kilo of cocaine they’re going to jail, and there is a high probability they will be convicted and harshly punished. If someone gets caught transporting teenage girls to their next “job”, they’re just hanging out with a few friends.
    • Human Traffickers receive judicial leniency. The police don't focus on pimps in the first place, but even when pimps get caught, prosecuted, and convicted they receive punishment much less severe than drug dealers.
      • Here is a real, relevant, and recent example that perfectly demonstrates the “Judicial Leniency” point. A 27 year-old man named Emanuel Jose Cartegena was arrested in Houston in early May of 2016. He has a long criminal record that is not worth listing. The only reason for mentioning it is to convey that he is a habitual criminal. The most relevant charges leading to his arrest in May were 1. Compelling the Prostitution of a Minor and 2. Promoting the Prostitution of a Minor. He was NOT apprehended peacefully or without incident. His surveillance, pursuit, arrest, etc. required substantial resources, effort, and expense. He received a timely trial (as is his right) in Harris county in early August of 2016. Emanuel’s trial concluded with the charge of Compelling the Prostitution of a Minor being dropped. For the charge of Promoting the Prostitution of Minor he received Deferred Adjudication. Let’s be clear what “Deferred Adjudication” means. It means that he pleaded GUILTY to the charge of Promoting the Prostitution OF A MINOR. However, as long as he completes the conditions of his deferred adjudication (which usually includes attending a counseling session, and not getting arrested for promoting prostitution again for the next 6 months), the charges will be dropped and will not be added to his criminal record. In layman’s terms the Texas judicial system said to Emanuel, “Keep your nose clean for 6 months and we’ll forget this ever happened.” It is not difficult to see why HT is becoming the crime of choice for the criminally minded.

What set of circumstances could possibly lead a prosecutor and a judge to believe that justice has been served when they drop the charges against a pimp, with a long criminal record, who admitted he was guilty of prostituting a minor? It is time to fight back!

The cornerstones of my fight against HT

  • Protecting 18-20 year-olds from sexual predators, traffickers, and exploitation in Sexually Oriented Businesses (SOBs) by changing the minimum age to 21.
    • Just like 18-20 year-olds cannot legally buy alcohol (in any state) or gamble (in most states), they would not be able to legally work in a sexually oriented business until they reach the age of 21.
    • It would also mandate increased penalties for anyone convicted of Compelling or Promoting prostitution when the person being exploited is under 21.
  • Providing extended parental guardianship in specific circumstances and emergencies. This may seem somewhat disconnected, but it is a vitally important tool strengthening a family’s ability to rescue children ensnared by HT, and to get them the medical treatment and counseling they need for recovery. It was one of the most challenging barriers we faced in getting help for our daughter. Doctors and counselors would not talk to us or even allow us to be present for her evaluation or treatment because she was 18.
    • First, any 18 year-old acting independently without a parent present would maintain the ability to act on their own behalf, as an adult, without a guardian.
    • When parents are present with their child, the parents would have default guardianship to act on the child’s behalf (with hospitals, doctors, treatment/therapy facilities, police, etc.) if at least four of following statements below are true:
      • The child lives at home
      • The child is still in high school
      • The child is a full-time student
      • The child is claimed as a dependent by the parent(s) on the prior year’s tax return
      • The child has never been married
      • The child has not been the subject of any CPS abuse investigations
    • If parents exercise the default guardianship, the child would be notified of their right to a judicial review within 7 days if they so chose. During the review the judge would either sustain the parental guardianship for the duration they determine is appropriate, or revoke the parents’ guardianship immediately if the judge believes the child is not benefiting from it. The worst case scenario for those who oppose such a law is that parents would have up to 7 days of parental custody to “impose” medical treatment or counseling on one of their children until it could be reviewed by a judge. Today the time it takes to secure judicial review and establish temporary guardianship could easily be enough to lose an abused teen to the people exploiting them. The current default is for the doctors or facilities to release girls back onto the street or back to the pimp. Releasing an 18 year-old high school senior to her pimp instead of her parents sounds crazy, but it happened in August to one of the families I was trying to help rescue their daughter.

The stated objectives above are achievable

The state of Louisiana passed SB 468 (96 yeas to 0 nays) earlier this year. Senator Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, authored the bill. It was signed into law by Democratic Governor John Edwards and became effective 8-1-16. The law raises the age requirement in Louisiana for strippers to 21. The catalyst for passing the bill was public outrage when a 19 year-old girl (working as a stripper in New Orleans) was found dead after being beaten and dumped along I-10 by her pimp.

The next Texas session, beginning in January 2017, is the perfect time to introduce legislation that better protects our youth from the serious life-altering and life-threatening risks associated with sexually oriented businesses and commercial sex acts. Let's not wait for public outrage over a similar tragic teenage death here in Texas.

If they were successful in Louisiana, I know we can do it in Texas.

I am currently seeking counsel to craft the careful wording that will be necessary for the law change to hold up in court, but the preliminary feedback confirms the expanded guardianship goal can also be achieved.

Where things stand today

Since May I have met many times with Senators, Representatives, Governor Abbott’s and Attorney General Paxton’s staff, and Anti-HT organizations. So far the support I’ve received has been unanimous. Senator Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, sent a summary of what is outlined above to Texas Legislative Council for review. She committed to submit the bill in the next session. The legislation may wind up as an amendment to strengthen the current HB 10 (an anti-HT bill passed in 2015). Representative Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, will join as a co-sponsor in the House. I am confident other members of the House and Senate will join the list of sponsors.

However, in recent weeks a few supporters started hedging. They want to be sure I understand how hard it will be to achieve my goals. They said we can definitely get some additional funding and launch a public awareness campaign, but the other changes will be more difficult.

One of the reasons for their hedging is because they expect to see strong opposition from the Sexually Oriented Business owners who make a significant portion of their profit by exploiting 18-20 year-old girls. The SOBs are quietly effective at working the political system because they secure vocal opposition from multiple angles. I was warned that opposition will arise from places I would never expect it.

I have been warned. I expect opposition. I say bring it on! I want the legislators to know that we elected them to accomplish the “hard” objectives. Let’s get it on the table and tally the vote to see where our elected officials stand. Do they stand with Texans protecting our 18-20 year-old family members? Or do they stand with the SOBs who want to continue exploiting our children? I am confident we can win by a landslide.

What you can do to join the fight

  • Sign the petition.
  • Please check the box that allows your name to be seen on the petition and provide your full mailing address.
  • Forward the petition to others willing to sign.
  • The guidance I received indicates that difficult legislation in Texas usually requires 50,000 “anonymous signatures” to secure passage. My goal is to provide 100,000 “identifiable signatures”. The reason for including names and addresses is so that the signatures can be compared to voter registration records in each legislator’s district.
  • Let Texas legislators know that we expect and demand stronger laws to protect our children.
  • Help our sponsors in the House and Senate secure the votes we need to pass the bill.

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