With its large metropolitan cities, expansive highway systems, major international airports, easily accessible public transit, and shipping ports on the gulf, Texas sits as a hub for domestic and international human trafficking. The Central Texas region has also experienced explosive growth in recent years causing an increased market and demand for exploited labor and sex trafficking victims.

Despite advocacy initiatives and heightened media exposure in recent years, victims and survivors continue to go unidentified. The greatest opportunity to prevent, respond to, and eliminate trafficking exists through a multipronged, coordinated approach utilizing law enforcement, education, awareness, and social services. Since the creation of the Central Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking (CTCAHT) in 2003, Refugee Services of Texas (RST), local law enforcement, and community partners have worked to increase exposure and provide services for trafficking survivors.

RST’s new Survivor of Trafficking Empowerment Program (STEP) program aims to enhance the quality and quantity of services available to all victims of human trafficking in Central Texas. The STEP objectives are: 1) Provide high quality, individualized services to all victims of trafficking using a comprehensive service model, 2) promote enhanced interagency collaboration in Central Texas, and 3) facilitate public awareness and training on the subject of human trafficking. Dr. Busch-Armendariz and her team will provide a program evaluation for STEP. The evaluation design will follow an ecological approach, addressing the program’s initiatives at the levels of clients and their families, collaborative institutional partners, and the broader community.

For the purpose of this project, the geographic area to be served centers on the Austin metropolitan area in Central Texas. With increased education, awareness, and training provided through this project, it is expected that greater numbers of victims and survivors will be identified and have access to services.