San Antonio Express News
When Debbie was 6 years old, her mother began prostituting her, injecting her with heroin before she sold her to a parade of men. This abuse continued until she was 12.
“People think human trafficking only happens in (other countries), but it can be happening right next door,” Debbie, who didn't want her last name used, told a panel of child welfare, social service and law enforcement officials Friday.
The event served as the unveiling of proposed legislation that aims to increase support for the victims of domestic sex trafficking while it provides new tools to prosecute such crimes.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, co-sponsored with Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, will add to existing federal efforts to combat what he called the “scourge of human trafficking.”
“We have to make human trafficking unprofitable, and we have to make the consequences such that people simply don't want to risk it,” he said.
The bill would create a special fund that would finance human trafficking deterrence and victims' support programs through fines and penalties assessed on those convicted of child pornography, sexual exploitation, human trafficking and human smuggling offenses.
Currently, about $20 million to $30 million in federal money goes to domestic trafficking prevention and deterrence — far less than that dedicated to international trafficking deterrence programs, Cornyn said.
His bill would boost federal funding for domestic human trafficking victim support programs by an estimated $10 million to $20 million.
Other elements include enhanced tools to make it easier for prosecutors and others to go after those who ply the domestic sex trade and those who patronize it.
It increases maximum penalties for human trafficking-related offenses and requires states to report the number of such crimes, among other stipulations.
Cornyn's bill comes in the wake of the recent Texas legislative session, as well as prior sessions, when Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and other lawmakers were able to get numerous anti-human trafficking bills passed that target the problem at the state level, including stricter penalties, increased victim protections and more tools to aid investigations and prosecutions.
“What's so complicated about human trafficking is that victims don't necessarily consider themselves victims,” Cornyn said. “They've been abused in their homes, they're runaways. ... Treating them as victims instead of offenders is the beginning of wisdom.”
Debbie, 39, said she didn't get the help she needed until she was arrested for drugs. After serving five months in jail, she completed a Bexar County drug court 24-month rehabilitation program.
“I've been clean for two years now,” she said.
About 300,000 youths are at risk of entering the domestic sex trade nationwide each year, said Kirsta Melton, an attorney with the Bexar County district attorney's office.
She said the number of local human trafficking investigations tripled from 2011 to 2012 — from 55 to 15— largely due to increased training and awareness among local law enforcement.
“But we know that without long-term rehabilitation services, youth are more likely to go back” to trafficking after they've been rescued, she told the panel. “That's not a cycle we can afford. We have to provide services that help them turn their lives around.”