Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New Texas Law Establishes State Task Force and Victim Assistance for Domestic Victims of Trafficking

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry today ceremonially signed House Bill (HB) 4009, which establishes a human trafficking taskforce in the Attorney General's Office that will develop policies and procedures for the prevention and prosecution of human trafficking crimes.

"The taskforce created by this bill will focus state efforts on ending this criminal activity that primarily targets women and children," Gov. Perry said. "Human trafficking is a serious problem, and this legislation sends a message to those who would profit from exploiting others in this fashion – Texas won't stand for it."

HB 4009 directs the task force to report on the numbers of trafficking victims and convictions, how victims are transported into the state and routes taken, and the factors that create a demand for the services that victims are forced to provide. The taskforce is to present its reports to the Legislature and governor every even numbered year. The report will also include recommendations on training law enforcement to recognize and handle human trafficking, efforts to combat human trafficking, and ways to increase public awareness and bring offenders to justice.

"Texas has always been, and continues to be, a leader in the modern day abolitionist movement, and this legislation is the first of its kind in the United States," Rep. Randy Weber said. "Most people think human trafficking happens elsewhere in places like Thailand and Cambodia, but the reality is that it is happening in our own backyard. In fact, the vast majority of the victims identified within Texas are actually our own citizens."

The taskforce will work with U.S. attorneys, border patrol agents, and the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards to develop and conduct training for law enforcement personnel, judges and their staff, examine law enforcement agency training protocol, and develop recommendations for strengthening state and local efforts to prevent human trafficking.

According to the U.S. State Department, nearly one in five victims of human trafficking in the U.S. travels through Texas, with Houston and El Paso listed among the most intense trafficking jurisdictions in the country. Between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year, 80 percent of them women and 50 percent of them children. Victims of human trafficking are recruited, harbored and transported for labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion, and are subjected to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, slavery or forced commercial sex acts.

We will undoubtedly be seeing more of these types of state legislation being signed over the next couple of years. Upon reading the bill itself, the highlight is probably Subchapter J-1, which is a provision for assistance to domestic victims of human trafficking (US citizens and permanent legal residents), which is currently not covered by federal legislation. The Task Force itself seems to apply to all victims, however the subchapter provides a grant program and specific resources for domestic victim services. It also includes a provision for the study of how to fund victim assistance programs, including the possibility of the use of assets seized from traffickers. The bill also includes the possibility of a study of alternatives to the juvenile justice system for children who engage in acts of prostitution.

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