State gears up to fight sex trafficking

Greg Harman

[email protected]

Slavery still exists.

Human beings bought, sold, traded on an underground market. Women, primarily, threatened and beaten, tortured, and killed.

According to Siddharth Kara, in Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, sex trafficking has become a chronic reality across Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East, following the reach of economic globalization, as national behaviors are retooled to mesh more cleanly with Western gears.

“While the global economic integration that began in the early 1990s led to several benefits â?¦ globalization's corresponding ills resulted in a rapid increase in global slavery by deepening rural poverty, widening the chasm between rich and poor, promoting social instability, and eroding real human freedoms, all of which compromised the very democratic transitions that enabled the transformation in the first place,” Kara wrote.

Global profits associated with sexual slavery are on the order of $31.7 billion, according to the International Labor Organization.

Here in Texas, one out of every five trafficking victims in the U.S. are believed to travel Interstate 10 each year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Houston and El Paso are on the list of “most intense trafficking jurisdictions in the country,” an agency report states.

To reduce the number of women, children, and men who wind up as modern-day slaves, state Senator Leticia Van de Putte drafted progressive legislation to establish a statewide task force on sex trafficking. Senate Bill 89 would also require law enforcement to explore alternative models for handling minors engaged in prostitution, raise the age of minor status for prostitution charges from 17 to 18 and make ignorance of a victim's age inadmissible as a defense.

Van de Putte's legislation was well received and approved unanimously in House and Senate committees before being rolled into related legislation intended to expand victim assistance services in the state.

That larger bill is now on the way to Governor Perry for his signature.

Meanwhile, the last of five Bexar County residents convicted a year ago in Bexar County's only human trafficking lawsuit to date is set to be sentenced on June 19 to five years in prison under a plea agreement.

Under a plea agreement, Brent Stephens, the owner of several home-health service organizations in recent years â?? including Senior Sitters, Total Therapy Services, and Meta-Care â?? would serve five years in prison for his part in luring three women into the United States from Nuevo Laredo to work as prostitutes for an escort service. Two of the women were minors.

Stephens allegedly backed out of the plan after “inspecting” the women at his condo. His partner, registered sex offender Timothy Gereb, who threatened the women with a gun if they failed to perform, according to court testimony, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in March of 2008.

While sexual slavery is a huge issue, it's important to remember that for every person enslaved in sex work, there are three people being forced to perform in other capacities, says Maria Trujillo, executive director of Houston Rescue and Restore.

Enslaved people can be found working in restaurants, selling magazines door-to-door, working in nail salons, or as domestic help.


Here is a video interview about trafficking, specifically as it relates to Houston:

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