|Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. This very day men, women and children live in bondage throughout the United States, including Texas. They are used for sex. They are forced into labor. Unable to overcome their captors, these victims are powerless. It shocks the conscience that this still takes place in our communities. We simply cannot tolerate it.
The Texas Legislature is considering a bill that acts on that conviction. Senate Bill 1257 would give the Office of the Attorney General concurrent jurisdiction with local district attorneys to prosecute human trafficking cases. The bill’s authors, Sen. Joan Huffman and Rep. Jeff Leach, deserve credit for proposing legislation that can make a real difference by bringing more traffickers to justice.
According to a 2016 University of Texas study, there are more than 300,000 victims of human trafficking living in our state. However, in 2018, only 19 out of the 254 counties in Texas prosecuted human trafficking cases — meaning 235 counties, or around 92 percent — did not. There is no question that traffickers are slipping through the cracks.
To be clear, I am not impugning district attorneys’ offices or local law enforcement agencies. The shortfall in prosecuted cases is not their fault; understaffed and overworked, they often simply don’t have the manpower and resources to pursue time-intensive and complex cases. While currently my office prosecutes cases only when a district attorney requests assistance, under SB 1257, my office could step in when a district attorney decides not to pursue a case or when the trafficking occurred across many jurisdictions to ensure that human traffickers do not go unpunished.
As the Legislature considers allocating more than $60 million to combat this epidemic over the next two years, even more traffickers are likely to be charged. That’s why we will need to use all resources at our disposal to prosecute them. SB 1257 gives the attorney general the opportunity to fill in the gaps for local prosecutors.
And my office’s Human Trafficking Unit is uniquely positioned to fill this desperately needed supplementary and supportive role. Our statewide presence is a major asset as these cases often cross jurisdictional lines. Our investigators and prosecutors have specialized expertise in obtaining justice in human trafficking cases.
Our highest profile case was assisting with the takedown of Backpage.com, a vile organization that made its fortune selling women and children. Backpage raked in $500 million in…