Anti-Human Trafficking training could extend to Austin City staff

The hands of a 14 year-old sex trafficking survivor as she tells her story to KXAN - Fall 2014

AUSTIN (KXAN) – City Council will consider a resolution this week that could train more City staff to recognize suspected victims of sex or labor trafficking, KXAN has learned. It’s partly a bid to quell a tide of domestic sex slavery where vulnerable Texas children can be brought to major special events around Austin to be sold for sex.

Thursday morning, Austin City Council Member Ellen Troxclair will lead an effort to bring awareness to the issue at a news conference that is to include Mayor Steve Adler, Police Chief Art Acevedo and members of various anti-slavery groups.

Austin City Council Member Ellen Troxclair
Austin City Council Member Ellen Troxclair

“With large events, they sometimes drive a culture that is susceptible to human trafficking. I think it’s important that the City staff and those involved in planning organizing, these events – including our public safety personnel are… aware of the possibility that this may be going on around them,” says Troxclair.

The draft resolution obtained by KXAN proposes:

  • The City recognizes human trafficking is a human rights concern impacting Austin residents, businesses, and communities
  • The City declares freedom from human trafficking is a fundamental human right
  • The City promotes these principles and values through its policies, and continues to secure this human right on behalf of its residents

 It goes on to propose Council “vote to direct the City Manager to appoint a liaison to local groups that…are dedicated to collaborating with the City and others to achieve the shared goal of ending human trafficking in Austin; to incorporate information about preventing, identifying, and responding to human trafficking into existing training for City employees as may be appropriate.”

The resolution’s authors see that staff training could extend for example, to parks or public works personnel who work at or around the annual Austin City Limits music festival or the Code and Fire Inspectors who work South by Southwest festival or City staff who are involved with events around the annual Formula One races.

Already many of the city’s sworn law enforcement staff have gone through human trafficking training as part of their continuing professional education.

Since 2011, TCOLE has offered Texas peace officers two related courses. Each was revised in 2013. The first is four hours of classroom time, the second, up to 16 hours.

Commercial sex trafficking statistics

Four out of five counties with populations above 250,000 including Travis County, report that human trafficking is a problem while one in two counties of the same size report that human trafficking arrests are increasing, according to the U.S. National Association of Counties.

One in every 11 cases of human trafficking reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center originated in Texas in 2014.

KXAN has reported extensively on the sobering subject, in 2014 profiling a Travis County teen who ran away from home and into the hands of men who allegedly drugged her and held her for weeks.

Wednesday, in San Antonio the FBI reported the recent arrest of one pimp and four underage commercial sex victims. It was part of the ninth annual nationwide Operation Cross Country.

In all, 149 underage trafficking victims were recovered and 153 pimps were arrested. The national effort is spearheaded by the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, along with state and local law enforcement partners across the country. The youngest victim in this year’s operation was 12 years old. Of the 149 victims recovered, three of those minors were transgender, and three were males, according to a release.

A decade of reaching out to local survivors

It’s been more than a decade since the formation of the Central Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking in 2004. It coordinates services for victims of trafficking, prosecutes cases of human trafficking, and raises awareness of the issue.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) defines sex trafficking as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.

Now, the new Council resolution comes with a formal call to develop plans and policies to prevent and reduce human trafficking related to all City tourism initiatives and City-sponsored events.

The idea first came to Council Member Troxclair’s attention in February when the five-year old Austin-based group Allies Against Slavery began promoting a plan to create a network of “slave-free” cities around America.

“There hasn’t been a coordinated effort from the City… I think (in the near future) the hope is we can say definitively that we are free from human trafficking in Austin and Travis County, Troxclair says.”

A petition link on the non-profit’s website invites people to sign on so “traffickers can’t exploit the vulnerable and where survivors can truly heal.”

This weekend, the group is promoting an anti-slavery march downtown. In the fall of 2013, the group staged an anti-slavery summit in Austin.

In 2014, the Texas Attorney General’s Office published a Guide to help teachers recognize children being trafficked. It’s a valuable resource for parents, too.

KXAN Investigator Robert Maxwell will look at the issue on KXAN News at 10pm.

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