Houston human trafficking case prompts lawmakers to call for more government action
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Texas lawmakers are hoping that a Houston human trafficking case will help convince their colleagues to expand federal efforts to combat modern day slavery.
Houston authorities today arrested Tevon Harris and charged the 21-year-old man with using force, fraud, and coercion to force children to engage in commercial sex acts. Harris allegedly used social media sites to lure his victims with promises of careers in modeling. When they met in person, it wasn’t a modeling career at all.
Harris allegedly raped his victims, stripped them of communication to the outside world, and used violent abuse to ensure compliance.
Prosecutors said Harris allegedly beat one of his victims with a towel rack torn from a motel wall, and starved another for four days.
This instance is an example of the human trafficking epidemic that has swept Texas. Due to its international airports and proximity to the border, Texas is home to one quarter of the trafficking cases in the United States; with Houston being a major hub of the crime.
Lawmakers proposed a bill to address the issue last month. The Human Trafficking Report Act was introduced in early March by Cornyn and Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, to label trafficking as a major crime under the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. Human trafficking would join murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault in the “Part I violent crimes” category.
The bill would enhance data collection for the crime, to ensure the prevalence is documented and known.
Rep. John Carter (Official photo)
“Human traffickers are like cockroaches. They operate in the dark. The American public has no real knowledge of the atrocities going on around the world. The human trafficking bill will be like turning the light on the cockroaches. They’ll scatter and we’ll be able to catch them,” Rep. Carter said.
It would also better equip law enforcement to identify victims, catch criminals and prevent cases of human trafficking.
Rep. Ted Poe (Brad Doherty / The Associated Press)
“We must work together, at every level of government, to equip law enforcement with the tools they need to crack down on human traffickers. Our bill will aid Texas and other state and local governments as they battle organized criminal syndicates and violent gangs that traffic humans for labor and sex,” said Sen. Cornyn.
Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, has also been an outspoken advocate on the issue. Poe co-authored an article with Sen. Leticia Van de Putte for the Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk titled, “Eliminating Modern Day Slavery”. The abstract emphasized the need to address human trafficking on local, state, and national levels of government.
The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.