BBR to study scope of human trafficking in Texas

The scope of human trafficking in modern-day Texas will be charted by researchers working on the Texas Slavery Mapping Project, a new two-year initiative funded by a $500,000 state grant to help prevent exploitation and to care for survivors.

The Criminal Justice Division of the Governor’s Office awarded the grant to the IC² Institute’s Bureau of Business Research and the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (IDVSA) at The University of Texas at Austin, working in partnership with Allies Against Slavery, to document the extent of human trafficking across the state.

The project’s first year will involve gathering existing data from sources across Texas such as district attorneys and local law enforcement, and from state and national anti-trafficking advocate organizations. During the first year, the team also plans to catalog available services for trafficking survivors in Texas, including legal advice, shelters, counseling and job-skill development. The second year will be spent mapping slavery in several key regions of the state and conducting an economic analysis of the tangible and human costs of the crime.

“Modern slavery is a $150 billion annual criminal industry worldwide, according to the International Labor Organization. The economic effect of trafficking in Texas, with its large and diverse economy, certainly will be significant,” said Bruce Kellison, associate director of the Bureau of Business Research and co-principal investigator. “With BBR Research Scientist Matt Kammer-Kerwick, we will examine how much slavery costs our state to better understand this crime’s impact on our economy, on its victims and the systems that must respond to it.”

“The project will fill a critical gap in the research,” said Noël Busch-Armendariz, director of IDVSA at The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Social Work and principal investigator on the project. “By expanding our shared knowledge about modern slavery in Texas and assessing the success of existing programs, the project will give policymakers and practitioners the information needed to improve legislation and on-the-ground initiatives that prevent exploitation and provide care for survivors.”

According to the U.S. Department of State, human trafficking is a form of modern slavery that occurs when someone is coerced, forced or deceived into prostitution, forced labor or domestic servitude. In 2013, Polaris, a nonprofit dedicated to combating this crime, reported that a total of 431 human trafficking cases and 1 out of every 11 calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline came from Texas, second only to California. Texas is considered a hub for human trafficking, yet the true scope of the crime is largely unknown.

“The Texas Slavery Mapping Project will be an important contribution by our state to the national dialogue about ending slavery,” said John Nehme, chief executive officer of Allies Against Slavery, whose vision inspired the project. “This study ultimately will help us detect slavery more rapidly, deploy resources to disrupt the crime and support survivors more effectively, and better educate the public.”

The Texas Slavery Mapping Project is one of three ongoing research projects on which BBR and IDVSA are collaborators. The Rape Kit Backlog Study is an effort to quantify the cost of processing the backlog of untested sexual assault kits in the Houston Police Department’s evidence room. The Statewide Sexual Assault Survey will gather key metrics of sexual assault in Texas as well as important data about associated relationship, environmental, and attitudinal factors, and the health and justice system consequences of sexual assault.

Previously, BBR and IDVSA worked together to produce the 2011 report, Sexual Assault Needs Assessment in Texas.

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