Petitioning Texas State Legislators

Strengthen Anti-Human Trafficking Laws

Human Trafficking (HT)  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 or brothel, Asian girls smuggled to the U.S. under similar circumstances and forced into the back rooms of a spa or nail salon, and runaways from broken homes picked up off the streets by a pimp and trapped into a life of prostitution). 

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 has grown explosively in recent years particularly in Texas. In the U.S. 82% of HT is sex trafficking which involves forcing young girls (or boys) into commercial sex acts. There are a few key reasons for the recent growth.

Reason 1:  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 victims to the Johns.  The delivery can be to a hotel room, to a an apartment set up for that purpose, or right to your front door like a pizza. The offending buyer never has to show their face or even leave their home. They simply have to give a credit card number. Today 76% of the transactions for commercial sex acts occur 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.

Reason 2:  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 victims 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.

Reason 3:  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. Drugs are a consumable product that can be sold one time.  Sex trafficking victims can be sold over 25 times per day.  Everyday.  Day-after-day-after-day.

Reason 4:  Police and prosecutors are not able to effectively pursuing pimps.  The offense for which officers are most likely to arrest a pimp is for conducting the transaction.  Remember the statistic?  Seventy six percent (76%) of the transactions occur online.  What does an officer do when he catches a known pimp riding around with a teenage victim?  Nothing! There is nothing the officer can do.  For a pimp having the “product” you sell in your possession is perfectly legal. Compare that scenario to a drug dealer. If a dealer gets caught with kilo of cocaine they’re going to jail, and there is a high probability they will be convicted and harshly punished. 

Reason 5:  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 age of consent 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.

Mandating increased penalties for anyone convicted of Compelling or Promoting prostitution when the victim is under 21

Requiring all criminals convicted of Compelling or Promoting prostitution  to register as sex offenders

Criminalizing the act of even riding in a car with minors outside their immediate family for anyone previously convicted of promoting or compelling prostitution. We don't let pedophiles set up picnic blankets on grade school playgrounds, so why do we allow pimps do ride around with teenage girls?

Requiring sexually oriented business to keep approved human trafficking support / escape posters hung on the inside of bathroom stalls at all times (the only private space victims have in that environment)

Increasing support & aftercare for victims, with a focus on 18 to 21 year-olds (there is a severe shortage of support for girls in this age range) 

Clearing the criminal record of victims convicted of crimes that were the result of the victims being controlled by their trafficker

Raising funding for public awareness & education in schools for parents & teens  

Requiring local law enforcement to attend Attorney General sponsored human trafficking training programs to recognize the signs when they encounter them

Developing curriculum to be used with teens to prepare them for the dangers and to recognize the signs of trafficking when they encounter them

Targeting nuisance websites that knowingly distribute advertising that offers commercial sex acts prohibited by existing sex trafficking statutes

Formalizing a "Naming and Shaming" program to publish the identities of companies and individuals convicted of buying, selling, or otherwise contributing to illegal sex trafficking  

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 current Texas Legislative session is the perfect time to introduce laws that better protect 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.

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. The verbal support I support I received in those meetings leaves me optimistic. Several Texas legislators planned to address the 2016 recommendations of The Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force Report in the 2017 session, so we have momentum in our favor.

Senator Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, is passionate about HT and sent a summary of the initiatives outlined above to Texas Legislative Council for review. She committed to submit multiple bills in 2017 (the list of initiatives will be split into more than one bill). Senators Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and Larry Taylor, R-Pearland, have both been active in the past fighting HT and are likely to be advocates. Representative Sephronia Thompson, D-Houston, has been great.  She already authored bills this session to set aside HT victim convictions and require training for all commercial driver's license applicants.  Representative Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, agreed to join as a co-sponsor in the House. I am confident other members of the House and Senate will join the list of authors and 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 victims and families? Or do they stand with the SOBs who want to continue exploiting our children? I am confident we can win by a landslide, but we need your support.

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.  Your mailing address will not be available for the the general public to see.  Only your name and city will be displayed.

Forward the petition to others willing to sign.

My goal is to provide 100,000 “identifiable signatures”. We already had almost 10,000 signatures on the petition before it was posted on Change.org.  The reason for including names and addresses is so that the signatures can be compared to voter registration records in each legislator’s district.  I want elected officials to know the voters in support far outweigh the dollars in opposition.  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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