Human trafficking is one of the less talked-about issues happening in the United States, but it is one of the most important.
According to the International Labour Organization, more than 40 million people are victims of human trafficking around the world.
Texas is the second worst state for human trafficking, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline.
This problem is happening right here in Tarrant County as well.
Last Sept., the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that the Fort Worth Police Department has investigated 38 human trafficking cases this year and 53 “semi-identified” victims were rescued.
I attended a panel on sex trafficking on Oct. 1 hosted by Albert Roberts, a former assitant district attorney. What I learned from both panelists and audience members was appalling.
One of the major issues that there are not enough people working on this problem in Tarrant County, as it is not being taken seriously by elected officials.
According to the Fort Worth Police Department website, the Human Trafficking Unit consists of only an officer, a detective and a civilian program coordinator.
A retired FWPD officer who attended the panel said that the officer in the unit receives between 200 and 300 tips from callers a day.
By contrast, Dallas County and the city of Houston have acted against human trafficking, according to panelist Christie Messenger, and Tarrant County needs to take note.
She said Dallas County has prosecutors assigned to handle human trafficking cases, and Houston has 35 people, including federal officers, investigating human trafficking cases.
Messenger, an advocate for criminal justice reform, said the FWPD has 30 cases on record since Jan. 1, 2017 with more than 70 cases to date, and has collaborated with both federal and state agencies as well as non-profit groups.
There has not been a single human trafficking case prosecuted in Tarrant County, she said.
Tarrant County needs more people assigned to work these cases. We need a prosecutor dedicated to this issue and more resources need to be provided to the police department.
Texas Wesleyan graduate Rebekah Charleston was one of the panelists who spoke. A survivor of sex trafficking for 10 years in DFW, she told her story, including how she got out. Many victims do not get that chance before it is too late.
Charleston said that many people think that sex trafficking is happening in the outside world and not here, but that is not true. As a member of this community, I am demanding that more is done about this issue from Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson, the Fort Worth City Council and my state representatives because the safety of my classmates, my friends, my family and myself depends on it.
If someone is a victim of human trafficking or they suspect someone they know is, please report it to the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office Human Trafficking Unit by calling 817-884-2941 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
People can also contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.