U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul Hosts Multi-Agency Sex Trafficking Roundtable At Legacy Stadium
As a former federal prosecutor and current chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) has battled drug cartels and terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Queda. Now McCaul, who represents Katy in Washington, D.C., said human traffickers are next.
“These human sex traffickers are really the worst of the worst. They deserve the worst punishment,” McCaul said after hosting a human trafficking awareness roundtable at the Katy Independent School District’s Legacy Stadium.
Representatives from federal, state and local agencies were on hand at the May 2 event to share their ideas about how to grapple with what officials said was a growing problem impacting communities throughout the state and nation.
Experts define human trafficking as controlling a person through force, fraud or coercion to exploit the victim. More than 300,000 victims are in Texas alone. While anyone can be a victim, the average age is 13 and more than half of the victims are women and girls, according to Houston Crime Stoppers.
“This is a dark stain on humanity. It’s modern day slavery in our lifetime and we need to do something about it,” McCaul said.
Represented at the human trafficking roundtable were agencies like Homeland Security and the Houston Police Department to non-government organizations like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
“It can happen here in Katy, Texas,” McCaul said. “It’s not just ‘urban America,’ it’s ‘suburban America.’”
Mark Dawson, special agent in charge of Houston’s Homeland Security Investigations office, said combatting human trafficking is one of their top priorities every year.
“But no one agency can take on the challenge of something as large as this,” he said.
Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, agreed with Dawson.
“It has to be a multi-disciplinary approach,” he said.
Capt. Derek Prestridge with DPS said their patrol troopers are being trained to look for the signs of a possible human trafficking case during routine traffic stops on the freeways.
“We’ve come in contact with those children on a daily basis. We have to start accounting for,” them, Prestridge said. “We have to stop waiting for children to tell us they’re victims. It is a case of asking the right questions.”
McCaul said the proactive DPS approach could be a model for other states to follow. “It’s being “the eyes and the ears’ - how to identify the warning signs of sex trafficking and sex exploitation and bring those criminals to justice,” he said.
Scott Santoro with the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center warned the panelists about inconsistency in training standards for dealing with sex trafficking.
“We can’t just hope that a victim is in a jurisdiction that has great training,” Santoro said.
McCaul pointed out some legislative success at a national level with dealing with human trafficking, including the passage of the Department of Homeland Security Blue Campaign Authorization Act of 2017 - later signed into law by President Trump - which prioritizes combatting sex trafficking as one of the department’s primary missions. He also credited passage of a bill that makes it easier to take down internet sites that exploit children for sex trafficking.
But, McCaul said Texas needs to toughen up some of its own human trafficking laws. He cited a case where a convicted sex trafficker exploited a girl for more than a week but was released after receiving deferred adjudication in the case.
“That is not acceptable. It should not be acceptable in our criminal justice system,” McCaul said.
Kathryn Griffin’s perspective on the day’s topic was different than the other panelists at the roundtable. Although now with the Harris County Precinct One Constable’s Office its human trafficking director, Griffin is a convicted former prostitute with a $30,000 a month crack cocaine habit whose life began spiraling out of control after she was sexually abused as a child.
She said the trauma of being abused as a child broke her down.
“I wanted to die with a crack pipe in my hand,” Griffin said, recalling her lowest moment in the life of a sex trafficking victim.
She warned the panelists not to underestimate the “street smarts” of the sex traffickers. She said they will change their recruiting and operating strategies as the situation dictates.
“The real pimps never get caught. They sit back and collect all the money,” Griffin said. “They think our sentencing is a joke.”
In the end, law enforcement agencies can only do so much and what’s needed is greater public awareness about sex trafficking, McCaul said.
“A lot of people don’t want to recognize that this is in their back yard. Some school districts don’t want to acknowledge that (it) could exist in their neighborhoods,” McCaul said. “The fact is, it’s there. It’s kind of like peeling the layers of an onion. It gets worse the more you look into this.”
This article originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle, here.