New sheriff: Human trafficking is ‘another pandemic’ facing Fort Bend County

The Coalition to Combat Human Trafficking in Texas promotes public services announcements to help raise awareness about human trafficking and how to get help. (Courtesy The Coalition to Combat Human Trafficking in Texas)
The Coalition to Combat Human Trafficking in Texas promotes public services announcements to help raise awareness about human trafficking and how to get help. (Courtesy The Coalition to Combat Human Trafficking in Texas)

The Coalition to Combat Human Trafficking in Texas promotes public services announcements to help raise awareness about human trafficking and how to get help. (Courtesy The Coalition to Combat Human Trafficking in Texas)

Combating human trafficking is a top priority for newly elected Fort Bend County Sheriff Eric Fagan.

Human trafficking is “very, very present” in the county, Fagan said Jan. 15 during a virtual event organized by the Central Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce. Fagan, who was elected in November, said he wants people to know “that the sheriff's office now is taking that very seriously.”

“It’s another pandemic that we have,” he said.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, “millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide,” including in the United States.

First and foremost, Fagan said, it is critical that residents understand that human trafficking can affect anyone and that anyone can become a victim.


“It's just not women and sex trafficking, which a lot of people think—and that’s a large part of it. But it also affects juveniles,” he said.

Sunni Mitchell, assistant district attorney in Fort Bend County, echoed Fagan, emphasizing how vital it is that residents have an accurate understanding of what human trafficking is and where and how it occurs.

“That's what everybody needs to understand, is that this is happening in our neighborhoods, it's happening in our children's schools, it's happening to people you know,” she said. “And that's a hard thing for us to accept.”

The issue is particularly timely, said Cynthia Aulds, director of The Coalition to Combat Human Trafficking in Texas, because data gathered by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children shows that the coronavirus pandemic is significantly impacting human trafficking.

For example, the nonprofit experienced a 98.66% increase in online enticement reports between January and September 2020 as compared to the same time period in 2019, according to a summary of the issue.

Aulds said that despite common perceptions of human trafficking, anybody can be affected.

“Especially today, with social media, it doesn't matter if we live in a gated community; it doesn't matter what our income level is; it doesn't matter—race, gender or anything else,” she said. “The traffickers can reach anybody.”

Mitchell urged people to report any suspicion of human trafficking they come across to law enforcement. There is no reason to be afraid to report a potential case, she said, even if it does not prove to be legitimate. If it does, she said, a report could save a life.

“Everybody has to do their part by just knowing that if you see something, say something,” she said.

As Fagan begins his tenure leading the sheriff’s office, he said he is planning to work closely with the Fort Bend County District Attorney's Office to fight human trafficking and will continue asking the community to work together to increase awareness about the problem.

“This is something we can do if we all work together,” he said. “It's not a Republican issue. It's not a Democratic issue. It's an issue of human lives.”
By Morgan Theophil
Morgan joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2021 as the reporter for the Katy edition. She graduated from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism in 2018.