The Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, announced Texas will combat modern-day slavery with a the state’s first human trafficking unit. Paxton said human trafficking is a horrific crime that’s often hidden in plain sight.
“This crime is happening all around us and people don’t know very much about it,” Paxton said.
The team of five investigators and three attorneys will focus on traffickers and transnational organized crime.
“Where you find trafficking you find drugs, you find smuggling you find arms, you find violent crime of a whole large variety,” said Kirsta Leeburg Melton.
An experienced prosecutor, Melton will lead the new unit as the Deputy Criminal Chief. At Thursdays news conference, Melton called on the people of Texas to make a cultural change.
“There are huge links in the culture between pornography-use and the demand, that creates a demand for prostitution,” Melton said that drives human trafficking, which is estimated to be a $32 billion industry.
“We’ve got to really start examining who we are as people and say we’re not selling or buying people here in Texas,” Melton said.
The Human Trafficking and Transnational Organized Crime (HTTOC) section of the Texas Attorney General’s Office will coordinate with local law enforcement agencies to find and prosecute traffickers across Texas.
“These individuals are just living by exploiting other people,” said, Sgt. Bob Miljenovich. The supervisor for the Human Trafficking Unit at the Austin Police Department, Miljenovich said the state’s new team will offer up much needed resources.
“It’s not limited to any one geographical area, it’s not limited to certain races, ethnicities, social classes, it doesn’t matter,” Miljenovich said.
Officials pointed out that human trafficking is not just forced prostitution, it can also be slave-labor.
Paxton said the HTTOC is being financed with existing funds and if more traffickers are prosecuted, it will prevent more people from being trafficked in the future.