Texas Bar Journal — November 2012
Change Language:
Hidden in Plain Sight: A General Overview of the Human Trafficking Issue
Laura Pratt

Next year marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of The Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order proclaiming that all slaves in the United States were, “and henceforward shall be free.”1 Other countries have made similar declarations, both before and after the United States, aspiring to the freedom of all persons within their borders. But, despite this historical foundation and subsequent lawmaking, it is estimated that there are more than 27 million slaves in the world today, which means there are more slaves now than any time in history.2

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery, and it is frequently referred to as the fastest growing criminal industry in the world today.3 It comes in two forms, labor trafficking and sex trafficking. Contrary to popular belief, victims of human trafficking do not also have to be victims of human smuggling; a person can be trafficked within the confines of their own home. As defined under the Trafficking Victims Protections Act, “severe forms of trafficking in persons” are:

a.) sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or

b.) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.4

While statistics show increased percentages in certain areas, human trafficking is a crime that can and does affect several levels of society. Human trafficking is not isolated to a certain demographic: men, women, girls, boys, rich, and poor can fall prey to a trafficker. Human trafficking frequently involves persons younger than 18. It is estimated that 1.2 million children are trafficked each year and that 50 percent of international human trafficking cases involve the sexual exploitation of a child.5 Also, the trafficking of persons does not only exist on foreign soil, and the only way not to find human trafficking in a specific community is simply not to look for it. Human trafficking frequently occurs within the United States, and it is estimated that 14,500-17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each year.6 This number does not include the countless, unknown domestic victims trafficked within the United States.7 Additionally, while traffickers can be complete strangers to their victims, victims are frequently trafficked by close friends or family members.

A victim does not choose to be trafficked. Traffickers are masterful manipulators, using force, coercion, and fraud to control their victims.8 Typically, traffickers who control their victims through direct force employ means of degrading forms of restraint, violent physical abuse or torture, rape, and reoccurring transport to various locations.9 Traffickers can also use various forms of fraud, making false promises of employment, marriage, or simply a “better life” to create a false sense of hope in their victims.10 Finally, traffickers employ a random assortment of coercion tactics, including threats against the victim or the victim’s family, the destruction of official documents, debt bondage, or psychological manipulation.11 Because the level of psychological and physical trauma is so severe in most victims, they do not self-identify, meaning they do not realize the true nature of their imprisonment.

The domestic response to this issue has been slow in coming but fast in growing, and has become more developed and more comprehensive in recent years. The United States took the first steps to combating human trafficking with the enactment of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. This federal legislation has been continually updated over the past decade as more information becomes available to the legislature and the issue gains increased political will.12 This comprehensive legislation focuses on both the domestic and international dimensions of the human trafficking issue, developing a three-pronged approach or the “3-Ps.”13 The law seeks to prevent human trafficking by raising domestic and international public awareness and by monitoring and sanctioning human trafficking through a State Department-led program; to protect victims of human trafficking through the T-visa program and other victims’ services; and to prosecute traffickers with federal crimes that carry severe penalties.14 Key additions to the federal law include the creation of a federal task force to assist in implementation, the development of a civil cause of action for victims against their traffickers, the encouragement of local and state cooperation with the issue, and the allocation of federal funds to combat human trafficking.15

The state of Texas has had a strong response to this issue as well. Because of its geographical location, large cities with strong tourism markets, interstate transportation, and international commerce, Texas is ripe for human trafficking activities. 16 The increased activity of human trafficking in Texas has prompted an aggressive response from the Texas Legislature, state agencies, local communities, and non-profit organizations and associations. Because of this response, Texas has received the highest rating, Tier One Status, from the Polaris Project, an organization committed to fighting human trafficking through a comprehensive approach.17 This status means Texas has established a firm anti-trafficking legal framework, based on the presence of statutes covering almost all of the ten categories surveyed.18 Both sex and labor trafficking can be prosecuted under state law, with special provisions and punishments allocated for situations concerning victims younger than 18.19

As part of the prosecution process, there are also Texas statutes covering asset forfeiture for human-trafficking offenses. 20 Plus, Texas has enacted provisions for governing law enforcement training and special investigative allowances.21 Finally, Texas law requires posting of the human-trafficking hotline number in certain locations, and the state has provided means for victim assistance and civil remedies.22 Additionally, through the statutory creation of a statewide Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force, Texas has already begun a focused process, designed to review current policies and frameworks to set future goals and anti-trafficking initiatives.23 Its report to the Texas Legislature in 2011 documented many of the challenges faced by Texas in the war against human trafficking, which include the lack of reliable victim identification and protection procedures, difficulties in prosecutions, and funding issues for victim-assistance programs.24 However, the report also identified future solution strategies for the state, focusing on increasing the success of current programs and developing future anti-trafficking through increased collaboration between lawmakers, service providers, and law enforcement agencies.25

Even though the foundation for federal and state legislation has always been victim-centered, more recently, assistance for victims’ rescue, rehabilitation, and reintegration into society has become a challenging aspect of local programs and social policies. This victim-centered approach is crucial to the success of any anti-trafficking effort. Law enforcement is beginning to receive focused training and educational resources for dealing with human trafficking issues, but society as a whole still struggles with identifying human trafficking and responding appropriately. 26

More often than not, victims are portrayed as criminals themselves. This hurdle to victim assistance is compounded by the inability of victims to self-identify due to the physiological and physical control they have suffered, and this manipulation keeps victims from acknowledging their rights, speaking to law enforcement, or seeking outside assistance.27 In addition to establishing adequate safety for victims, the basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing also must be met before the psychological needs of a victim can even begin to be addressed. While the Legislature can provide means for civil recovery, ultimately, the fundamental needs of victims have to be met within their local communities, or their return to the human-trafficking system is likely.

Approximately 10 years ago, the human trafficking issue was presented through scattered reports of individual victims struggling to break free from his or her traffickers.28 Even though these stories still appear in the news, the focus of this issue has begun to shift toward the various efforts underway by local, state, and federal agencies and authorities.29 Additionally, projects by non-profit organizations and individual communities have increased awareness, involvement, and cooperation with public entities. What is being hailed as the “modern abolitionist movement” has expanded beyond random pockets of government officials raising awareness and seeking action.30 Because human trafficking is constantly evolving, law and policy must continue to evolve to maintain a comprehensive approach to increase current successes.

As the issue continues to be of public focus, individuals have a wealth of options for increasing their involvement. The options include simply becoming more educated about the issue, talking about the issue within their spheres of influence, contacting and working with policy advocacy organizations, and encouraging legislative advancement.

For additional information on the human trafficking, please visit some of these websites:

• U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Campaign to Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking: www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking

• U.S. Department of State – Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons: www.state.gov/g/tip/

• The State of Texas Office of the Attorney General Prevention Task Force Report 2011: https://www.oag.state.tx.us/AG_Publications/pdfs/human_trafficking.pdf

• Polaris Project: http://www.polarisproject.org/resources/resources-by-topic

• Children at Risk: http://childrenatrisk.org/research/childtrafficking/


1. Featured Documents: The Emancipation Proclamation, National Archives and Records Administration, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/emancipation_proclamation/ (last visited Aug. 24, 2012).

2. Free the Slaves, https://freetheslaves.net/SSLPage.aspx (last visited Aug. 24, 2012).

3. United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. No Date. About Human Trafficking, http://www.acf.hhs.gov/ trafficking/about/index.html (last visited Aug. 24, 2012).

4. Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106- 386, 22 U.S.C § 7101 et seq. (2000).

5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. No Date. Fact Sheet: Human Trafficking, http://www.acf.hhs.gov/ trafficking/about/fact_human.html (last visited Aug. 24, 2012).

6. Id.

7. Id.

8. Id.

9. Id.

10. Id.

11. Id.

12. See Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003, Pub. L. No. 108-193, 22 U.S.C § 7101 et seq. (2003), available at http://frwebgate.access. gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=108_cong_public_laws&docid= f:publ193.108.pdf; see also Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005, Pub. L. No. 109-164, 22U.S.C. §7101 et seq. (2005), available at http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=109_cong_public_ laws&docid=f:publ164.109.pdf; see also William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-457, 22 U.S.C §7101 et seq. (2008), available at http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/get doc.cgi?dbname=110_cong_public_laws&docid=f:publ457.110.pdf.

13. Polaris Project, Polaris Project – Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act (TVPA) – Fact Sheet, available at http://www.polarisproject.org/resources/resources-by-topic/ anti-trafficking-efforts (last visited Aug. 24, 2012).

14. Id.

15. Id.

16. See Children at Risk, The State of Human Trafficking in Texas, eds. Robert Sanborn, Mandi Sheridan Kimball, Olga Sinitsyn, and Jennifer Michel Solak, http://childrenatrisk.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/State-of-Human-Traffickingin- Texas-FINAL.pdf (last visited Aug. 24, 2012).

17. Polaris Project, 2010 State Ratings, http://www.polarisproject.org/what-wedo/ policy-advocacy/current-laws#state_reports (last visited Aug. 27, 2012).

18. Id.

19. TEX. PENAL CODE ANN. §§ 20A.01 & 20A.02 (2012).

20. Tex. Crim Pro Art. 59.01, 59.02, and 59.06 (2012).

21. Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. §402.035(d) (2012); TEXAS CRIM PRO Art. 18.20 (2012).

22. Tex. Alco. Bev. Code Ann. §104.07 (2012); Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. §§ 531.381- 384 & § 420.008 (2012); Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. §§ 98.002-003 (2012).

23. TEX. GOV’T CODE ANN. §402.035(2012).

24. See The State of Texas. Office of Attorney General. Report to 81st Legislature. The Texas Response to Human Trafficking, http://www.oag.state.tx.us/AG_Publications/ pdfs/human_trafficking.pdf (last visited on Aug. 28, 2012).

25. Id.

26. Children at Risk, supra at 47-48.

27. Id. at 11.

28. U.S. Department of State, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Trafficking in Persons Report June 2012. http://www.state.gov/documents/ organization/192587.pdf (last visited Aug. 28, 2012).

29. Id.

30. Id

Laura Pratt is an assistant city attorney for the City of Lubbock. Her involvement with the human-trafficking issue began as a specialized legal research project and has developed into one of her passions. The opinions expressed in this article are not the official opinions of the City of Lubbock.