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Abbott Offers Clemency for Some Human Trafficking Survivors, but Not for All of Them

Photo by Dominic Robinson

Gov. Greg Abbott has established a customized clemency application for minors who have been victims of human trafficking. They can now provide the state parole board with statements regarding being trafficked or suffering domestic abuse to apply for clemency.

This move comes after the governor controversially vetoed a bill last June that would have made such an application largely unnecessary. House Bill 1771, authored by Rep. Shawn Thierry (D-Houston), would have removed prostitution by minors from the penal code, recognizing them as victims instead of criminals. While they could still be arrested, they would be sent home or to the Texas Department of Family Protective Services. The bill passed both the Texas House and Senate after Abbott personally worked with Thierry on it and was a major step forward in not punishing child victims of sex trafficking.

Nonetheless, Abbott issued a shocking veto, claiming that the law would have unintended consequences.

“The bill takes away options that law enforcement and prosecutors can use to separate victims from their traffickers,” Abbott said at the time. “And it may provide a perverse incentive for traffickers to use underage prostitutes, knowing they cannot be arrested for engaging in prostitution.”

Abbott promised to work with Thierry on future legislation on the issue, but the veto caused a backlash against the governor.

“Sex trafficking victims, many of whom are minors, are forced to engage in criminal behavior,” said the Dallas Morning News in an editorial from January. “Often that criminal behavior gets them arrested, and often enough a pimp will send a lawyer or someone else down to the jail house to post bond and get that sex slave back on the streets where she can, once again, be exploited for money. The end result is that sex trafficking victims often have a string of convictions — including drug possession, theft and prostitution — committed while under a trafficker’s control.”

In January, Abbott pardoned Robbie Ann Hamilton, a sex trafficking survivor with convictions for drugs and check fraud. His reasoning sheds light on his mindset regarding the criminality of trafficking victims.

“She begged God to help her quit drugs and the sex industry,” his office said in a press release. “She was baptized in jail and spent rehab getting to know the Bible and Jesus. “She participated with groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and New Friends New Life, a human- and sex-trafficking victim relief organization. She reoriented her life toward helping homeless addicts in street ministries and doing other rehabilitation efforts.”

This past Thursday, Abbott’s office announced the customized clemency application for survivors of human trafficking and domestic abuse. 

Under this system, a survivor can provide a statement about their victimization to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Then the board can make a recommendation to the governor about pardoning the victim for crime committed while they were being trafficked or abused. 

But unlike the bill, these decisions are on a case-by-case basis. This move does not decriminalize the participation of minors in offenses committed while they were being trafficked, which ensures that they enter the criminal justice system.

“Texas is committed to empowering the survivors of domestic abuse and human trafficking, and one of the surest signals of that goal is laying out a true path to redemption and restoration,” Abbott’s office said in another press release. “The gubernatorial pardon plays an important role in this redemption process, because it offers a second chance to survivors with criminal convictions resulting from their abuse or exploitation. I am grateful for our ongoing partnership with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles as we work together to develop a stronger justice system that promotes redemption, restoration, and transformation.”

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.

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