New local, federal legislation and tactics aim to tackle human trafficking

Ending modern day slavery

In March, Montgomery County law enforcement began investigating tips regarding a human trafficking ring in Montgomery and Harris counties. On Nov. 5, search warrants were obtained for four spa and massage locations in Pinehurst and Spring near Tomball, said Tyler Dunman, special crimes bureau chief for the Montgomery County district attorney’s office.

As a result, four people were arrested for human trafficking, and eight Chinese female victims were rescued from the establishments, he said.

“These search warrants were related to a larger human trafficking ring that covers both Harris and Montgomery counties,” Dunman said. “Our county has seen an increase in activity so we’re trying to stamp it out as fast as we can.”

Lt. Brady Fitzgerald, Montgomery County sheriff’s office spokesperson, said human trafficking had not been an issue locally until this year.

“Those first cases that are being prosecuted here is an indication that [this issue] is coming here to Montgomery County,” Fitzgerald said. “We are going to do what we can to put a dent in that.”

Local efforts

A group of local churches, nonprofit groups and law enforcement entities founded the Montgomery County Human Trafficking Coalition earlier this year to combat human trafficking, Dunman said. The coalition meets every other month and takes a multidisciplinary approach to fighting human trafficking.

Additionally, the Conroe Police Department works with the DA’s office and local groups to help victims of sexual assault, CPD Sgt. Dorcy Riddle said.

“The seriousness of this crime, especially when it relates to forced labor or sexual activity—whether that be from an adult or children—that is certainly something that I would rate as one of the most serious offenses that we would want to eradicate from the area,” she said.

Riddle said the police department works with Children’s Safe Harbor, an agency that handles child-centered casework, to carefully interview sexual abuse and human trafficking victims.

“Any time we have an interview with a child, we are not likely to do the interview. We are going to leave it to one of the forensic interviewers over at Children’s Safe Harbor,” Riddle said. “They know how to conduct these interviews to [not be] traumatic for children so they are not subjected to being revictimized by telling their story over and over again.”

New legislationHuman Trafficking new legislation

This instance of human trafficking is one of many that have been targeted with the help of House Bill 10, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law June 9.

The legislation extends the statute of limitations for human trafficking prosecution, provides additional aid for victims and better trained judiciary members to identify victims, said Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, who co-authored the bill.

“We’re challenged in Texas in two areas—in employment and sex trafficking,” Thompson said. “Domestic trafficking has been really big for a long period of time. We wanted to take the bite out of trafficking. The hardest part is labor trafficking. That’s the most difficult to crack.”

The bipartisan-supported HB 10 is a move toward a statewide coordinated response to combat human trafficking, though much more needs to be done, Thompson said.

“We’re just scratching the surface at this time,” she said. “The major problem in trying to curtail this thing is the demand. The United States of America stands in position No. 1 for human trafficking.”