CORPUS CHRISTI – Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, said he met with several groups to discuss the possible creation of an anti-human trafficking hotline, stronger punishments for those who engage in the crime, and the development of centers for victims.
Hunter is part of the Joint Interim Committee to Study Human Trafficking and said rallies like the one Thursday help educate lawmakers about the issue.
“I think that we’ve gotten better in the messaging about anti-human trafficking,” he said. “We still need to be careful and clarify there’s a difference between human smuggling and human trafficking, but I do think since 2014, we have made strides in awareness in the issue.”
The Texas Attorney General’s office defines a smuggled person as one who paid to be transported, while a trafficked person is forced to perform labor or sex work against their will.
Last August, a man and two women were arrested in Portland on suspicion traveling with underage girls and soliciting sex online. Police said one of the girls called a relative who alerted police she was being held against her will.
Hunter said he will submit his own legislation if other members of the committee don’t cover all the needed human trafficking issues by the bill filing deadline in March.
Amie Riner, vice president of New Life Refuge Ministries in Corpus Christi, didn’t attend the rally but said her organization will advocate for stronger anti-human trafficking laws this session. The group is working to open a shelter locally for survivors.
Among the legislation Riner’s group supports are bills that support interviewing recovered missing children to determine whether they were trafficked and bills that back training for medical staff and teacher to identify victims.
In a 2014 report, the Department of Public Safety called human trafficking the third largest criminal enterprise in the world, with most child victims first sold by their early teens. Texas was the second largest source of tips to a national human trafficking hotline in 2013 with 2,236 calls originating from the state.
This article was written by Nadia Tamez-Robledo from Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Texas and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.