April 18, 2018 — Greater public awareness and education are the best means of fighting human trafficking, officials with a wide variety of professional experiences agreed during a panel discussion last week at the University of Houston Law Center.
The program provided different perspectives on the issue from academia, the legal profession, law enforcement, health law, victim services, and economic aspects. The event, "Human Trafficking 2018 and Beyond: A Multi-Factorial Practical Approach," was presented by the Center for U.S. and Mexican Law at the Law Center and the University of Houston's Hobby School of Public Affairs.
"Human trafficking is a gross violation of human rights, and it is a crime against humanity," said Alfonso López de la Osa Escribano, director of the Center for U.S. and Mexican Law, and an adjunct professor. "It affects all genders, ages and nationalities, but women and children are especially vulnerable. Other vulnerable populations include indigenous people and undocumented immigrants.
"Mexico and south Texas are a major labor and sex trafficking area in the United States and are ahead of the game fighting it, but more needs to be done. Approximatively one in four women trafficked in the United States travels through Houston, according to the Department of Justice".
The opening speaker, Minal Patel Davis, a special advisor to Mayor Sylvester Turner on human trafficking issues, discussed a strategic long-term initiative she helped put in place.
"The first objective we came up with was to institutionalize the City of Houston's response," Patel Davis said. "The reasoning there was to think 100 years from now, what would we want our city departments to continue to do to help generate and report tips to the national hotline and to help increase prosecution."
Ed Gallagher, an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas and an adjunct professor at the Law Center, developed curriculum for a Human Trafficking Law Course. Part of his class involves legal analysis and case studies on how law applies to human trafficking cases.
Gallagher said it is important to increase discussion of human trafficking issues in academic settings, to help with prevention, protection and the prosecution of offenders.
"Human trafficking has to be viewed with several dynamics in mind," Gallagher said. "It's a civil rights problem and an organized crime problem. It is forced labor and commercial sexual servitude. It is also a gender issue, usually with men as the offenders and women as the victims. It's domestic or international, involving an immigration component.
"We have a lot of difficulty getting accurate data in human trafficking cases. Many of our cases are not using exact human trafficking statutes. Often we're unable to prove that statute and rely on lesser statutes."
Sherri Zack, an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas and human trafficking coordinator for the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance, provided a law enforcement perspective and exposed the different crimes and significant penalties that exist in terms of sex trafficking.
Constance Rossiter, YMCA's social responsibility director for the Trafficked Persons Assistance Program, gave a victim-centered approach, speaking about the psychological aspect that must be taken into account when dealing with vulnerable persons who have been trafficked because of a lack of protection.
Misa Nguyen, director of education for the NGO United Against Human Trafficking, said a knowledgeable community will help in the fight against human trafficking. She discussed how awareness and educational programs are attempting to reach more segments of the population.
The panel was moderated by Pablo Pinto, an associate professor and director of the Center for Public Policy at Hobby's School of Public Policy.