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Fort Worth Star-Telegram OpEd
Sunday, February 10, 2013
TYLA’s “Slavery Out of the Shadows:  Spotlight on Human Trafficking”

By C.E. Rhodes, TYLA President

This year marks the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery, yet there are still slaves in the United States today – men, women, boys and girls.

The Texas Young Lawyers Association this week released our latest public service project, “Slavery Out of the Shadows: Spotlight on Human Trafficking” to bring public awareness to a critical and little understood issue.

"Slavery Out of the Shadows" shares Debbie's story. At age six, Debbie's mother first injected her with heroin – to numb the pain she would feel when her mother sold her to men for sex, in exchange for drugs. Debbie got pregnant and gave birth at age 11 – and then gave birth to a second child at age 13. This did not happen in a foreign country, but right here in Texas.

As a 10-year-old girl growing up in California, T met a man who promised to take care of her. But for the next seven years, she was forced to sell herself on the streets and was subjected to threats, torture, and manipulation. Now 23, T escaped her former life thanks to a court-appointed advocate and others who cared.

As a society, we must prevent others from suffering the same fate as Debbie and T.

We all share in the responsibility of caring for those who are vulnerable and preventing injustice to the best of our ability.

One of my priorities this year as president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association – a department of the State Bar of Texas – is to bring public awareness to the horrific crime of human trafficking and what we can do about it.

The issue of human trafficking received much attention at the American Bar Association mid-year meeting this week in Dallas.

Considered to be a contemporary form of slavery, human trafficking is defined under Texas law as transporting, enticing, recruiting, harboring, providing, or otherwise obtaining another person by any means with the intent that the person engage in forced labor or services – including sex trafficking – and forced prostitution or pornography.

Traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits annually by victimizing millions of people around the world. Human trafficking is not just an international problem – it is happening all across the United States and right here in Texas.

According to the U.S. State Department, 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, and at least 100,000 children are sexually exploited every year in the United States. In Texas, 80 percent of human trafficking cases involve sexual exploitation of children.

In 2003, Texas became one of the first states to pass human trafficking legislation criminalizing such conduct. It's a start. Created by the Texas Legislature, the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force reported in 2011 that runaway minors and homeless youth face the greatest risk of falling victim to human traffickers. It is estimated that one out of every three children that run away is lured into sex trafficking within 48 hours of leaving home. The average age of entry into sex trafficking is 12-13 years old.

These children are often escaping abusive or disrupted homes and are then subjected to psychological and physical abuse by traffickers. Traffickers manipulate and employ force, coercion and fraud to control their victims.

TYLA has partnered with community and victim advocacy organizations, educators, lawyers who are prosecuting such cases, and others to raise awareness about human trafficking and ensure that victims get the services they need.

Debbie and T are no longer victims, but survivors. Watch their stories. Listen to them. Learn more. Join in their recovery and in helping thousands more like them in Texas – and across the globe.

Together, let's put a stop to modern day slavery.

“Slavery Out of the Shadows,” funded by a grant from the Texas Bar Foundation, is available at tyla.org. Contact TYLA at 800.204.2222 ext. 1529 to request a copy on DVD. Many other outstanding TYLA public service projects that serve vulnerable populations – youth, seniors, domestic violence victims – are also available at tyla.org.

C.E. Rhodes, of Baker Hughes, Inc. in Houston, is president of the Texas Young Lawyers Association.

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