Strengthening the child sex trafficking safety net in Texas
It has been almost a year since the state of Texas teamed up with the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline to ensure the most robust possible response to child sex trafficking in the Lone Star State and, by all possible measures, this unique partnership is already making a difference in the lives of children and families.
The numbers alone tell a compelling story. One of the goals of the partnership was to help stakeholders across Texas understand how best to utilize the National Hotline to protect vulnerable and victimized children. They listened and they called for help when it truly mattered. Preliminary data shows that between September 2018 and May 2019, the National Hotline saw a jump of 42 percent in substantive “contacts” - that is, calls, emails, web forms, chats and texts - from Texas over the same time the year before. That outreach resulted in the identification of 151 likely trafficking cases referencing minors - a nearly 19 percent increase over the previous year. In the course of handling those cases, the National Hotline reached out to work directly with the Texas Abuse Hotline of the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services 294 times.
The information-sharing with the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services is part of a series of bespoke protocols put in place as a result of the partnership. The protocols include some unique-to-Texas additions such as including Texas Department of Public Safety in all substantive reports that the National Hotline makes to its law enforcement partners. This data-sharing allows for cross-agency collaboration that helps illuminate patterns of how and where the crime is occurring across the state. This is vital for ensuring that resources are going to where they are needed most, for formulating strategic interventions to prevent child sex trafficking whenever possible, and for breaking up trafficking rings and helping already victimized children to safety.
While the big-picture patterns are vital to ending trafficking over the long term, getting the right information to the right people in real-time can - and has - led to positive conclusions of individual cases, such as helping to track down a missing child in danger of being trafficked. In smaller areas or regions, localized, customized information-sharing protocols ensure that law enforcement and government agency personnel well-versed in trafficking response are looped in throughout the state and that equally effective back-up systems are in place should they not be able to respond in a timely way.
Outreach to the National Hotline is, of course, only the beginning of the process of ensuring vulnerable children get the help they need. One of the key functions of the National Hotline is to maintain a nationwide directory of organizations offering the types of services that survivors may seek. This comprehensive, internal National Referral Directory is made up of anti-trafficking organizations as well as non-trafficking organizations that are willing and able to serve survivors of trafficking. It is used by Hotline Advocates to help connect survivors of all forms of trafficking, regardless of age, to the critical services they seek wherever they are in the country.
For those who wish to find help for themselves, clients, or loved ones without necessarily having to contact the National Hotline, a smaller subset of the National Referral Directory is available online. This public Referral Directory is made up of anti-trafficking organizations and programs that have chosen to make some or all of their information publicly available and is free for anyone to use. All service providers in both the public and private directories are carefully vetted by the National Hotline team before being included. The vetting process ensures that the providers listed operate in a way that is characteristic of a quality service provider. To that end, the National Referral Directory application inquires about an organization’s victim-centeredness, sustainable managerial practices, collaboration with other local anti-trafficking efforts, and their ability to serve survivors of trafficking. The National Hotline’s partnership with Texas adds quality to the vetting process by extending to on-the-ground vetting by the Texas Governor’s Child Sex Trafficking Team. Since the beginning of the partnership, Texas has helped with on-the-ground vetting of 31 different service provider organizations.
As a result, 12 service providers located in Texas have been fully vetted and added to the National Referral Directory since September 2018, bringing the total number of Texas service providers listed in the National Hotline’s Referral Directory to 128.
Of those newly added, nine are also included in the online, public Referral Directory, bringing the total number of Texas service providers listed publicly to 57. Additionally, 11 of the new additions provide direct services to minors, bringing the total number of providers serving minors in Texas to 92.
Recognizing that survivors from groups identified as vulnerable populations may benefit from an organization with particular specialization in serving that group, the National Directory also maintains information regarding organizations' specialization in serving vulnerable populations, including: LGBTQ+ populations; American Indian and Alaska Natives; refugee and asylum seekers; ethnic minorities; homeless populations; people with HIV/AIDS; and religious, social, or political minority groups. Of the newly added providers, three were identified as having one or more of these specializations.
In addition to adding new organizations, the National Hotline has made Texas a priority in its first annual audit of the entire Referral Directory. This process helps ensure that trafficking survivors are referred to shelters, mental health counselors, case management services, legal aid providers, and other providers who are in the best possible position to support their healing. It also helps to ensure the information used to make referrals is accurate and up-to-date so that survivors are connected to services as quickly as possible.
All of this work - from protocol updates to expanding the knowledge base of those providing services to child sex trafficking survivors - helps increase capacity in the state to learn about and respond to sex trafficking tips, helps children find safety, and connects those children with what they need to help them grow up in to healthy adults, processing the trauma of what has happened to them, healing, and moving on. That kind of intense commitment is what is necessary to truly respond to child sex trafficking in Texas, and indeed around the country. The partnership is proof of what is possible if that commitment is made.
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