Texas Needs to Do More to End Sex Trafficking That Enslaves Young Women

It is never easy to editorialize about the sexual exploitation of girls and women. But then the past week has brought more than a little news that we actually want to share because it offers both hope and actionable next steps in the fight against a modern form of slavery.The first bit of good news came when the feds dealt a devastating blow to what has long appeared to be one of the most visible sex trafficking sites on the Internet, Backpage.com. Authorities shut down the Dallas-based site and handed its owners a 93-page indictment for crimes related to prostitution. Within days Carl Ferrer, the site's CEO, pleaded guilty to money laundering and conspiracy to facilitate prostitution charges in state courts in Texas and California and a federal court in Arizona. Ferrer has also agreed to testify in the cases of seven other Backpage officials. In those cases, the feds specifically cite victims trafficked on the site, some as young as 14. And it wasn't the only recent victory. Last month, Craiglist removed the "personals" section where pimps and Johns conducted their insidious business. The decision came days after Congress passed a bill that allows victims of sex crimes to sue websites for facilitating their abuse.There is a message here that goes beyond putting perpetrators on notice. And that is that it is possible to make headway in this fight and there is more that can be done in Dallas and in Texas. And here, Texas both needs to be and is a leader.The Lone Star State is a hot spot for human trafficking. A University of Texas at Austin study estimates there are more than 300,000 victims of human trafficking in the state. Almost 79,000 of them are minors and young people under the age of 24.These financial costs are equally staggering. An estimated $6.5 billion will be spent over those victims' lifetimes to pay for care and services as well as law enforcement activities and prosecution in this state alone, the UT study found.How can the numbers be that large? The answer is that prostitution is something that happens in nearly every neighborhood, even in well-to-do sections of Dallas. Often this type of activity occurs at massage parlors that operate without a massage license. So to get a sense of how widespread the problem is, Children At Risk, a non-profit, compiled data on massage parlors in Texas that had reviews on a site based in Cypress that publishes information on illicit activity at specific locations (yes, customers wrote reviews).   Continue reading...

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