Human trafficking is not just a problem in distant countries or remote parts of the U.S. border. It is increasingly a problem in places such as Tarrant County.
Recently, WFAA news out of Dallas reported a 15-year-old Guatemalan girl was rescued from bondage in Southlake. She had been brought to the United States illegally across the southern border and provided false identification.
Her captors were forcing her to work nights at a restaurant to pay off her $10,000 “debt” for being brought into the United States. She reached out to a friend, who then told a counselor, and law enforcement was able to intervene.
Her captor, Cesar Augusto Valdez-Perez, was charged with trafficking a child and has been placed on an immigration hold while in the Tarrant County jail.
Both the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office and the Fort Worth Police Department are actively engaged in the fight against human trafficking.
“When I was elected, I saw that human trafficking was the next frontier. It is truly human slavery in 2019. People are often not in it of their own free will,” Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn told The Texan.
Waybourne explained that he was able to shift resources around within the Sheriff’s office in order to have personnel dedicated to the Human Trafficking Unit.
“We are trying to get better at it every day,” he said, explaining that organized crime is heavily involved and constantly changing their methods.
Since the Unit was organized in 2017, the Sheriff’s Office has had over 100 human trafficking-related arrests.
The Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office recently added a prosecutor dedicated to human trafficking cases.
Trafficking cases can be either labor trafficking or sex trafficking, explained Lieutenant Kevin Turner of the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office.
The majority of those involved in labor trafficking are foreign immigrants, brought to the United States either legally or illegally. Like the victim in Southlake, they are often forced to work in restaurants, hotels, or agriculture.
They are told they have a debt to pay off for help in illegally crossing the border, but the captors never agree that the debt has been satisfied, Turner said. They are often afraid of law enforcement because they don’t want to be deported, so they don’t reach out for help.
Sex trafficking victims tend to be local female residents who are vulnerable to exploitation.
Often they are runaways, those who have aged out of the foster care system, or victims of previous sexual abuse. The average age of a sex trafficking victim is between 13 and 14 years old, Waybourn added.
Law enforcement perspectives have been evolving over the last several years, now focusing on the prosecution of the traffickers instead of the victims who are forced into prostitution. They are trying to work with non-profit organizations to help the victims recover and transition back into society.
The Fort Worth Police Department began a consortium group called the 5Stones Task Force to pool resources and respond to human trafficking as a group. The group includes law enforcement along with several local organizations that help victims.
The Texan will feature a story on the work of the non-profit organizations working to combat human trafficking in Tarrant County next week.
Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.