LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Once believed to be an issue that primarily affected major metropolitan areas, recent studies show that sex trafficking is a widespread issue across Texas; affecting even the smallest of cities. Law enforcement leaders and other agencies report that the human trafficking crisis continues to grow each year.
Despite that, increased public awareness and education has also increased the identification of perpetrators, and survivors, throughout the state.
In order to change the narrative of human trafficking here in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott set forward a comprehensive plan that stops the cycle right where it starts- with children.
During the 2015, lawmakers created a child sex-trafficking unit within the governor’s office. Since it’s creation, the office has spent $40 million trying to combat sex trafficking.
Andrea Sparks, Director of the Child Sex Trafficking Team, says a vast majority of those funds has gone towards victim services.
“This is huge and it’s not just something where we can turn on a switch and it changes, so it’s really about changing the way we look at these victims for forever. Specifically, trying to change the mindset of looking at these victims in a trauma-informed way and understanding that their behaviors are trauma responses to what they’ve been through. The extreme physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that they are going through," Sparks said.
To better address the needs of survivors, the state was divided into five distinct regions; allowing the governor’s office to allocate funds and advocate services for sex trafficking victims in each region.
Cristy Martinez, a local counselor for sex trafficking survivors, says she’s grateful someone finally recognized the lack of resources in this area.
“For a while I was the only sex trafficking survivor counselor and that was really difficult. Now we have two more. So yeah, the services were kinda lacking, but it’s great to see that now the governor’s office is really putting in more money, especially in our community,” Martinez said.
And yet, two more is still too few.
It’s a job that takes time for the survivors, and can take a toll on counselors.
Martinez describes it as being on the front lines of the battlefield- each story of trauma taking a hit, as the counselors work to shield survivors from their past.
“Instead of running, instead of saying, ‘I need to save myself,’ you’re like, no, if I can just sit in this with this chaos, in this war, and this pain with this other person, at the end of it, it’s going to be worth it and they are going to get through this, but they need someone who’s willing to step on that battlefield with them," she said.
Fighting a new battle everyday in the war against sex trafficking.
A battle Cristy Martinez fights alongside the governor’s office, who says more change is coming as they currently review their latest set of grants.
For more on the Child Sex Trafficking Team in the Office of the Governor click here.
To view the full April 2019 plan for Texas communities to address child sex trafficking click here.