Chained to a bed in a warehouse. Branded like cattle. Set on fire. These are just some of the horrific stories we’ve heard from women who have suffered as victims of human trafficking here in Texas.
Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, plain and simple. Sadly, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, Texas has the second-highest number of reported incidents of human trafficking in the country. While this horrific underground industry has been hidden for years in plain sight, the good news is that efforts to fight it are growing across the nation, and Texas is on the front lines.
Last week we had the opportunity to visit the Letot Center, a rehabilitation facility in Dallas where we saw firsthand what can happen when government officials, law enforcement officers, nonprofits and concerned citizens join forces to restore the lives of human trafficking victims. We were joined by advocates from the nonprofit New Friends New Life, an organization that provides job training, financial assistance, life skills coaching and special programs to address the challenges that survivors and their families face. With the addition of a brand-new all-female facility, the Letot Center and groups like New Friends New Life not only provide a safe home for trafficking survivors, but also help arm them with the resources to rebuild their lives.
One brave survivor we met was Amanda Jones, who became a victim of human trafficking after she was kidnapped in Dallas at the age of 15. For nine long years, she lived in terror as she was repeatedly sold for sex. Through the New Friends New Life’s holistic approach — which addresses the physical, mental and spiritual needs of victims — Amanda and her daughter are now living proof that there is hope for trafficking survivors fighting abuse, addiction or poverty.
As former judges, we strongly believe in not only punishing the people who commit these horrendous crimes, but also helping victims rebuild their lives. And as fathers, we refuse to sit back while children are being bought and sold in our own state. That’s why we authored the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act — to provide law enforcement with new tools to apprehend those who commit these heinous crimes, and to provide resources for restoration for the survivors. We’re proud that this bipartisan bill has been signed by the president and is now the law of the land.
Under our legislation, a special fund will be created to help these victims get the shelter and services they need, providing them with a fresh start. The law ensures that those who have been sold into slavery are treated as victims rather than as criminals. The legislation will also strengthen law enforcement tools to take down all human traffickers and the organized criminal networks supporting them. Finally, the law targets the predators who purchase trafficked women.
Partnerships on the federal, state and local level will be instrumental in eradicating these crimes. We must do everything possible to support survivors like Amanda to break the cycle of exploitation, overcome the pain of their experiences and start a new life. We can achieve this if organizations like New Friends New Life and facilities like the Letot Center have the tools and resources they need to serve every victim who comes through their doors.
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act will help us accomplish this, and we will continue fighting to ensure that this new law is fully enforced and implemented.
Editor’s Note: The above op-ed first appeared in Trib Talk.org. http://tribtalk.org/2015/06/14/with-trafficking-law-signed-now-the-real-work-begins/