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Sex Trafficking In Texas: Dozens Of Laws, But Little Or No Help For Victims

Callie Richmond/Texas Tribune

Gov. Greg Abbott has declared the state’s child welfare system as an emergency item in the current legislative session. But tied to that is a problem state leaders have battled for more than a decade – sex trafficking. 

This week the Texas Tribune launched, "Sold Out," a series that explores these problems, the affected victims and the political rhetoric that has brought little, if any, change. 

Edgar Walters is one of the journalists with the Texas Tribune who reported on the issue for the series. 

Interview Highlights

How bad or widespread sex trafficking is in Texas: “It’s hard to know exactly, but there was a recent study put out by the University of Texas and funded by the governor’s office that estimates there are about 79,000 children who are victims of sex trafficking in Texas at any point in time.”

How the state foster care system feeds into sex trafficking: “Children who are vulnerable to sex trafficking, they’re vulnerable to manipulation by a pimp, and that’s usually because of some kind of trauma in their past. A lot of the girls we spoke to had histories of sexual abuse, domestic violence, other sorts of traumas in the home.

More: When foster care couldn't help this 16-year-old, she ran to a pimp

"In other cases, we found there were failings of the child welfare system to provide a good home for these kids. And so, if you’re being abused at home, or you’re not getting the sort of love and affection you need, you’re likely to look elsewhere to try and find that. Unfortunately, in hundreds of cases or in thousands of cases, a lot of those children seem to be turning to a pimp.”

What happens to victims: “Authorities struggle because they don’t feel they have a secure place they can send them. You try to keep them in foster care, they end up running away. And so, often, they find their best option is to lock these girls up in jail, which is really unfortunate given that the entire system recognizes that they are victims, but in many cases they feel like there’s really no other option for them.”

More: Texas couldn't help this sex-trafficked teen, so authorities sent her to jail

Problems with laws passed to address sex trafficking: “Any session you could count dozens of bills passed, or at least filed, on the issue of trafficking – prostitution prevention programs, grant programs meant to pay for services of victims. They got passed, but there’s no funding attached, so, ultimately, those programs end up sort of being, you know, empty.

“The other issue if the funding of the foster care system in general. You know the head of the Texas Department of Family Protective Services has said he needs about one billion dollars over the next two years just to make basic reforms to the system and shore up his agency. But right now lawmakers, in crafting their budgets, have only allotted about a quarter of that. Funding is hard to come by.”

More from the Texas Tribune series: