Policymakers Discuss Advocacy, Initiatives in Fighting Human Trafficking

Two policymakers involved in the fight against human trafficking spoke at The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work about ways to make an impact against the problem that affects millions of people around the world.

Texas State Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston said that she and her colleagues will work during the next session of the Texas Legislature that starts in January 2013 to help law enforcement agencies deal more effectively with trafficking.

“We want to enhance the laws to enable law enforcement to take a bigger bite out of human trafficking,” she said.

Shelton Green, a business owner and Chief of Staff for State Rep. Debbie Riddle of Houston, encouraged people to become involved with groups like the Austin-based Allies Against Slavery to fight human trafficking.

Thompson and Green spoke at a policy briefing Sept. 19 organized by the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (IDVSA), a unit of the school’s Center for Social Work Research. The briefing was part of 2012 Free Austin, a two-week annual campaign designed to ignite a movement of people across the city to end human trafficking, sponsored by Allies Against Slavery.

In introducing the speakers, Laurie Cook Heffron, Associate Director for Research at IDVSA and a student in the school’s Ph.D. program, said those who work against human trafficking are engaged in a balancing act.

“We’re balancing the awareness and understanding of the horror of this human rights violation and injustices,” she said, “… with the creativity and collaboration and hope that are needed to move ahead with progress and social change.”

Although human trafficking is a worldwide problem it has victims in Texas and in Austin, Thompson said.

Human trafficking is a $32 billion enterprise that includes forced labor, commercial sexual exploitation, child pornography and other criminal activities.

“A victim does not have to cross borders to be trafficked,” Thompson said. “You can be born in Austin and live in Austin and be a victim of human trafficking.”

Although human trafficking often takes place in the shadows, it does extract a public cost, she said.

Thompson said she wants to develop programs to find out more about how people are ensnared in trafficking in order to devise prevention methods.

She also wants to make it possible to expunge the criminal records of women who have been victims of human trafficking yet charged with crimes related to activities they were forced to do.

Green said he started his company, Good & Fair Clothing Co., to avoid buying clothing made by slave labor

“Ethically sourced clothing costs more, but the people who make it are treated ethically,” he said.

He encouraged people to volunteer for organizations like Allies Against Slavery and to let their representatives know that they support anti-trafficking legislation.

“Keep tabs on the legislature,” he said. “Representatives need to know that you care and that you’re watching.”

From left, School of Social Work Dean Luis H. Zayas, Texas State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, Shelton Green, Chief of Staff for Texas State Rep. Debbie Riddle, and Laurie Cook Heffron, IDVSA Associate Director for Research.