Women and underage children are at high risk for sex trafficking, but some state legislators in Texas don’t support legislation to keep vulnerable Texans safe.

A 2016 study from the University of Texas found more than 300,000 victims of human trafficking in Texas, with 79,000 victims being underage. The study states youth sex trafficking costs the state approximately $6.6 billion a year while traffickers exploit nearly $600 billion from victims of labor trafficking.

Stopping human trafficking in Texas is top goal for most state policymakers, including Gov. Abbott, who proclaimed January 2018 as Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

“The State of Texas will not tolerate the inhumane practices carried out by coercive and manipulative criminals,” Abbott wrote. “We provide serious penalties for human traffickers, and we continuously look for ways to better serve the victims.”

This sentiment is unfortunately not universal in the Capitol in Austin, as demonstrated in the voting records of some state legislators.

House Bill 240, authored by Texas Rep. Ana Hernandez (D – Houston) and sponsored by Texas Senator Joan Huffman (R – Houston), and signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on June 15, 2017, holds landlords responsible for alleged prostitution activity in businesses advertised as massage parlors.  These massage parlors are notorious hubs for traffickers in the illegal sex trade, which preys on women and underage children.

While a majority of Texas representatives voted for the bill during a final May 26, 2017 House vote, Texas Rep.’s Matt Rinaldi (R – Irving) and Tony Tinderholt (R – Arlington) voted against the  bill.

Just a month before the House’s final vote, representatives Jonathan Stickland (R – Bedford), Ron Simmons (R – Carrollton) and Craig Goldman (R – Fort Worth) voted against a prior version of the bill. They were among 25 representatives who voted in the negative.

Voting against bills that aim to stop sex trafficking in Texas is troublesome, since the Lone Star State is one of the top states in America for human trafficking. Texas had 792 cases reported in 2017, second to only California according to the Human Trafficking Hotline, and the most per capita.  As Governor Abbott noted, the “heinous crime of human trafficking is not confined to some remote country; it is happening right here, and even children have become commodities for the pleasure of sexual predators and the profit of traffickers.”

We need legislators who will stand with law enforcement, protect the vulnerable, and help victims heal; not vote to perpetuate a shameful and coercive system of exploitation.