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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Crime

Task force focused on human trafficking


Kathryn Griffin-Townsend’s phone is always buzzing, even late at night.

Griffin, the founder of “We’ve Been There, Done That,” is a victims’ rights advocate, specializing in the aid of women in the Houston community who are caught in the cycle of prostitution, drug abuse and human trafficking.

“I deal with the healing and trauma. My phone hardly ever stops. I come to wherever they are,” Griffin said.

Griffin will come if the victim is willing to receive help.

“In the faces of human trafficking, the veins run deeper than people know,” Griffin said.

“A lot of prostitutes who are adults have aged out and were put into the sex industry as juveniles. They end up not knowing anything else but to go into the sex industry, and it leads to criminal behavior.”

In recognition of her efforts, Griffin was appointed to the Blue Ribbon Committee, a 10-official task force assigned with finding solutions for and bringing awareness to human trafficking. The formation of the Blue Ribbon Committee was announced in a press release at the beginning of September, the city’s sixth annual human trafficking awareness month.

Susham M. Modi, a supervising attorney at the UH immigration clinic, said the problem of trafficking is two-fold.

“Getting to the authorities is problem one. I think the second problem is if they’re undocumented, like our cases are, they don’t know that they can go through a process in which they may be able to get valid immigration status if they cooperate with law enforcement.”

If victims of trafficking cooperate with authorities, they may qualify for a U Visa or T Visa, which provide temporary legal status.

According to a Department of Justice report, Houston and El Paso play a prominent role in human trafficking because of their position on the I-10 Corridor, proximity to Mexico and connection to much of the southern portion of the US.

“The Department of Justice declared the I-10 corridor as one of the main routes for human traffickers in the United States. It is estimated that 1 out of 5 U.S. trafficking victims will travel through Texas along the I-10 corridor,” said Human Rescue and Restore Coalition in a fact sheet.

“It’s hard to drive on I-10 after knowing this information,” said Terence O’Neill, the manager for the Office of International Communities

“It’s an eye opener. One of the things you start to realize as you move down I-10 is that you’d never know as you sit there in traffic, idling in you car, that there could be a victim of human trafficking in the truck next to you,” O’Neill said.

Some are not aware that human trafficking is an encompassing banner that includes more than the sexual slavery of young girls and boys. “There is also labor trafficking, where the victim could be of any age or nationality,” said Maria Trujillo, the Blue Ribbon Committee’s chair and executive director of Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition.

“It could be the maid or nanny that lives next door. It could be the person who’s knocking on your door selling magazines or CDs. It could be the guy working at the construction site near your house or business. It could be the person doing your nails or braiding you hair at the braiding studio,” Trujillo said.

From sexual slavery to labor slavery, the faces of the traffickers shift from pimps and gang members in shady motels to 24-hour massage parlors, and even to the homes and businesses of affluent members of the community.

No one personified this more than Sugar Land resident Rozina Ali, who brought an Indonesian woman from Malaysia to Houston in 2002. According to court documents, the woman was beaten, kicked in the stomach, punched in the head and hit across the back with clothes hangers. She did not escape until 2007.

Chuck Foreman sees trafficking every day, and part of his job description involves returning runaways to their family. “Many are coerced into leaving home by so-called “Romeo’s” involved in gang activity that do not have the child’s best interest at heart,” Foreman said.

Foreman, a private investigator from CFSI International, states that law enforcement is doing a good job on the ground but that they can’t do it by themselves.

“Houston PD, Harris County and sheriffs departments don’t play around. I can orchestrate three different agencies to do welfare checks at three different properties at the same time,” Foreman said.

“They’ll work with me for a child or they’ll work as a group because we don’t want them to be tipped off. We’ll hit six houses in an hour span.”

All involved in the effort against human trafficking admit that it cannot be solved in a day, but if everyone works together, maybe Griffin’s phone will not be buzzing as much in the near future.

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