TribTalk

By Congressman Ted Poe

One hot summer day in Houston, a single mother (we will call her Amy) met a man. At the time, Amy was lonely and struggling to make a life for her young children. He was charming, funny and a talented member of the music industry. He told her he loved her and it made her feel valued and safe.

This man promised her a better life, saying that with her help, the two of them would start a thriving record label together, but in order to do this they would need to move away for awhile. He said this would be good for her future and, more importantly, her children's future. She was vulnerable, financially hurting, looking for a better life, and she trusted him. The plan was to move away for three months, and so they went.

Once they moved, the man immediately changed his tune. He isolated Amy from her family and friends and became hostile and abusive. It quickly became clear to Amy that that there was no record label. Instead, she had found herself in a dangerous situation. She spent her days trapped in a dark room where men would come in one by one. She was used and abused, treated like a prostitute. She was no prostitute. She was a victim of human trafficking being held against her will. The "appointments" with men continued to increase. It became clear quickly to this mother that she was now a sex slave.

One day, one of Amy's fellow captives being held by this man had a nervous breakdown to the point where she could no longer be physically controlled. She was a threat to his secretive business. The trafficker became distracted, and Amy was able to escape back to Houston. Her family picked her up and she returned home, but she was not the same woman that left months before. Her life was forever changed.

Amy was one of the lucky ones who got away, but her story of captivity is all too common in America. Traffickers prey every day on vulnerable women, from the insecure teenager at the mall to mothers like Amy looking for a better life for their children. This modern-day slavery happens right here in Texas in plain sight at our motels, cantinas and massage parlors. The victims live among us in our communities, but behind closed doors, they are slaves living in fear. They totally lose their identity. Meanwhile, their slave traders are able to keep their lives, committing this horrendous crime anonymously and continuously. Buyers and sellers of humans want to remain anonymous because they can. Those days need to end.

As a former criminal court judge in Texas, I successfully used public punishment for two purposes. First, I wanted to make sure defendants did not end up back in my courtroom. Second, I wanted to instill fear in would-be criminals to deter them from committing crimes in the first place.

I believe this form of public shaming can be successful in combatting human trafficking. That is why I have introduced The SHAME Act in Congress. This legislation will give federal judges the ability to publish both the names and the photographs of both convicted human traffickers and buyers of trafficked victims.

The second part of that is important — in order to effectively combat trafficking, we must go after the customers. The bill is designed to allow the public to easily access the pictures and information of those living among them in society who have purchased sex from victims. That way the buyers will no longer be able to hide in plain site under the cloak of anonymity.

Furthermore, I hope the SHAME Act strikes fear in those who think about purchasing young women for sex. Perhaps the fear of having their face on a billboard will make them think twice about participating in the modern day slave trade.

Traffickers and sex abusers run a global business second only to the slave trade. Like any business, this trade is successful because of its customers and the continuous demand they provide. It is time to SHAME these horrible humans out of the business.

Our children are not for sale.