Human trafficking is a part of real life, and it’s happening in Fort Worth.
That was the message Fort Worth Assistant Police Chief Kenneth W. Dean gave the council during its Aug. 28 work session in an update on crime in Fort Worth and how local officials are battling it.
“One of the things we pride ourselves in is we’re one of the leading agencies in the state and the nation for being and getting out there a little bit more proactively,” Dean said.
The most likely targets of human trafficking, Dean said, are children (mostly girls), immigrants and members of the LGBTQ community. Human trafficking also often has its genesis through prostitution, he said.
So far this year, the department’s Human Trafficking Unit has received 115 tips. From these, nine have turned into cases, contributing to the 40 total cases opened to date in 2018. Of those, 17 are still open and being investigated, while 39 suspects have been identified, including 34 males.
So far, 47 victims, all females, have been identified in 2018. The demographics include 27 juveniles and 20 adults.
Dispositions in federal courts include:
· One convicted for 35 years in prison.
· One convicted to four life sentences in prison.
· One convicted to a life sentence.
· Two pleaded to 15 years in prison.
· One pleaded to 10 years in prison.
· One pleaded to five years in prison.
· Five cases pending from 2016 and 2017.
Dispositions in state courts include:
· One convicted to 15 years in prison.
· One convicted to 180 days in jail.
· One convicted to four years in prison.
· One convicted to 30 days in jail.
· One convicted to eight years on probation.
· One pleaded to two years in prison.
· Seven cases pending from 2016-18.
Dean said human trafficking is particularly prevalent across Southern states, including Texas. He said the Fort Worth department is in the forefront of dealing with the situation, but there is still much work to be done.
“We are getting out in front of it as much as we can and continue to progress,” he said.
The department continues to educate officers and the community to recognize the difference between criminal prostitution and sex trafficking. Adults may make a decision to be a prostitute. However, victims of human trafficking have no choice, he said, and juvenile victims have no choice in prostitution or human trafficking.
The department partners with the North Texas Anti-Trafficking Team, which consists of numerous organizations working with state and federal law enforcement agencies.
They host bi-weekly case updates with members of the district attorney’s office as well as numerous victim advocates. They have also developed and continue to grow the meetings with the human trafficking coalition, which has grown to 50-70 participants each month.
In addition, the Fort Worth human trafficking unit works closely with the governor’s office to create a continuum of care for child sex trafficking victims. One key point is connecting all child victims with an advocate who will assist in obtaining resources as well as serve as a mentor for years to come.
Volunteer and social service providers helping the Fort Worth department include Tarrant County 5-Stones Task Force, Traffick 911, Unbound, Alliance for Children, Lena Pope, Our Community Our Kids foster care organization, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and numerous churches and other volunteer groups.
Mayor Betsy Price suggested an additional outreach in schools, to which Dean responded, “We need to find a mechanism to reach all of them.”