Local Seminar Brings Awareness to Human Trafficking

State Representative Carl Sherman Sr. | Image by Focus Daily News

On April 12, Texas State Representative Carl Sherman Sr. (District 109) joined a panel of experts to bring local awareness to the facts surrounding the growing epidemic of human trafficking in the United States. The conference was held at Dallas College and featured expert speakers from local organizations and law enforcement agencies.

Dallas Police Department Lt. Lisette Rivera provided background on the local, state, and federal laws that are in place that are often used to investigate and prosecute offenders for human trafficking.

“[Human trafficking] is the commercial exploitation of an individual,” Rivera said. “It does not necessarily have to include transportation. Many people are under the assumption that it has to be someone that is undocumented or from another country. That is not so.”

She explained that most individuals trafficked in the U.S. are citizens, predominantly girls between the ages of 12 and 14. Rivera told the panel that young girls are often lured with promises of gifts through messaging online.

“They start responding to that conversation, exchange information, and, lo and behold, they are sneaking off or a runaway,” Rivera said. “When a child is an adolescent, they are seeking sensory affirmation and attention.”

Rivera explained that the youths most at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking are those who experience domestic violence and sexual abuse at home. According to Rivera, about 80% of trafficking victims have previously encountered child protective services in some capacity.

Bianca Davis, CEO of New Friends New Life, a non-profit organization that provides training and assistance to victims of human trafficking, said that recent efforts have focused on educating businesses on how to spot signs of human trafficking and report what they see.

The organization has worked with companies like American Airlines and agencies like the Transportation Safety Administration and the Department of Homeland Security to improve reporting efforts.

Davis said one of the organization’s roles is to help women involved in prostitution get off the streets and away from the trap of domestic and sexual abuse.

“She (any woman forced into prostitution by traffickers) is both perpetrator and victim, so when she is picked up on this crime — that she was forced to do — and she has that hanging over her head, she can be released to be enrolled in New Friends New Life,” Davis said.

The program provides long-term and short-term help for women and girls to aid them in escaping from human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual abuse.

“I think that legislatively, what we have to understand is that the victim is not the problem,” Rep. Sherman said. “The police are not the solution; the people are the solution. As these groups are working together, I think the key thing to remember is that we must collaborate; we must develop these strong partnerships.”

The liaison for New Life New Friends Men’s Advocacy Group, Matt Osburne, said that everyone can play a role in bringing awareness to human trafficking and violence in their own way.

“You will likely know more than any of us and before any of us what you can do,” Osborne said. “Can you pray? Can you be supportive or spread social media? Can you ‘See Something, Say Something’? Can you donate? Can you just be an advocate? You will know. Let me tell you, the answer is not nothing. Anyone can do something.”

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