The QueQue: SA sex trafficking exposed, Texas killing Women’s Health Program quietly
Published: December 7, 2011
SA sex trafficking exposed
Most of the young girls told similar stories: each started young, somewhere around 13-years-old, sold into sex slavery on San Antonio’s streets, often kept in line with violence, fear, and drug addiction. Over the course of just two months this summer, UTSA professor Bob Ambrosino and two dozen of his social-work students filmed at a furious pace to capture the stories of girls forced into child prostitution in San Antonio. Aiming to expose domestic minor sex trafficking at an intensely local level, last week they held a private screening of the hour-long documentary, titled Behind Closed Doors: Voices from the Inside at a downtown UTSA auditorium packed with social workers, professors, victims advocates, and local policy makers. “It should shake you to the core to think that modern day slavery is happening here in our community, in our state,” said state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who’s been a driving force behind tougher sex-trafficking laws at the Legislature.
Texas lawmakers finally started to address the problem of human and sex trafficking in 2003, Van de Putte said, and by 2009 the Lege had created a statewide Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force to draft policy recommendations. According to the Texas Attorney General’s office, 20 percent of the 800,000 people trafficked each year in the U.S. pass through Texas, the majority through the I-10 corridor. Lawmakers this year passed a bill, spearheaded by Van de Putte, cracking down on child prostitution, giving life sentences to repeat offenders who force kids into sex work. The bill also expanded certain legal protections for victims, giving children forced into prostitution protections similar to victims in sexual assault cases. “This is about making sure these victims are truly treated as such, and not as criminals, while making sure these pimps face the toughest penalties. … Robbing someone of human dignity is the worst sort of crime,” Van de Putte said.
Days after the screening last week, reps with Shared Hope International, an organization founded by former Congresswoman Linda Smith to combat sex trafficking, picked up where the student film left off at a gathering of the National Association of Attorneys General downtown, releasing specific policy reports tailor-made for each state analyzing how each is fighting sex trafficking. The group estimates that some 100,000 minors are forced into prostitution across the country each year, with the average starting age of 13. Still, 19 states don’t have laws on the books making it a crime to buy sex from a minor.
Shared Hope doled out grades to each state according to how they’ve confronted the sex trafficking of minors — 26 states received failing grades, while Texas, one of the highest, was one of only four to receive a B. “A lot has happened in two years,” said Smith. “In Texas just this year we saw you changing penalties for buyers, we’ve started to take this really serious. You probably don’t want to come to Texas if you’re thinking about buying sex.”