A recent award of federal funds will enhance the efforts of the South Texas Officers and Prosecutors (STOP) Human Trafficking Task Force, a coalition of prosecutors and law enforcement agencies in San Antonio committed to fighting the evils of human trafficking. This announcement from U.S. Attorney Gregg N. Sofer, San Antonio Mayor Ron Niremberg, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus and Baptist Child and Family Services Health and Human Services Human Trafficking Interdiction Division (BCFS-HHS-HTI) Executive Director Chara McMichael appropriately coincides with National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
The $1.5M federal grant from the Department of Justice – Office of Victims of Crime – Bureau of Justice Assistance will strengthen the efforts of law enforcement agencies in Bexar and adjacent counties in investigating and prosecuting individuals engaged in trafficking. The STOP Human Trafficking Task Force will use the funding to increase community identification of all forms of human trafficking, rescue victims and prosecute traffickers. Importantly, this program will enhance the existing resources of all area partners to effectively serve survivors of human trafficking. The San Antonio Police Department serves as the lead law enforcement agency and BCFS-HHS-HTI serves as the lead victim services agency.
“Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. In the United States there are thousands of individuals held captive by malevolent traffickers who dehumanize, debase and harm their vulnerable victims. No human being of any age, nationality or background should be treated as a commodity to be bought, sold, traded or forced into labor of any kind,” said U.S. Attorney Sofer. “I am pleased that the STOP Human Trafficking Task Force has received this federal funding. Together, we will prosecute those that profit from this brutal and cruel behavior to the fullest extent of the law.”
Task Force members will provide specialized training and support for local law enforcement agencies and victim service providers to increase offender arrests, prosecutions and convictions. Task Force members will also provide training for educational and business establishments throughout our community. Presentations and audience-specific trainings within the community will increase awareness and identification of all forms of human trafficking – both adults and children who are exploited for the purposes of sex and labor – and will result in more victims rescued and exploitation prevented.
“According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 25% of human trafficking victims are found in Texas. With tens of thousands of human trafficking victims, San Antonio has proven to be a primary hub for sex trafficking in Texas in the last three years. It is clear, our community must focus on identifying the victims of human trafficking,” said Mayor Niremberg.
The STOP Human Trafficking Task Force, chaired by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, consists of experts dedicated to investigating and prosecuting incidents of human trafficking at both the state and federal levels. In addition to the San Antonio Police Department and BCFS-HHS-HTI, partners include the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Bexar County District Attorney’s Office, Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, Bexar County Juvenile Probation, Texas Attorney General’s Office, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“The concepts of human trafficking are often misunderstood. The need for increased public awareness, education, and training will increase the identification and reporting of suspected human trafficking. The STOP Task Force is committed to continually refining the methods used to identify victims of human trafficking, as well as working within the community to promote awareness,” said Chief McManus.
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking and needs immediate assistance, call 911. For more information or to learn how you can help, please visit www.STOP-HumanTrafficking.com. If you suspect human trafficking activities, please call the toll-free local human trafficking regional hotline at 1-844-843-6348 or 1-844-UIENDHT (U&I can END Human Trafficking). Trained professionals are ready to provide information and assistance.
“The only way we will succeed is for everyone in our communities to become involved,” said BCFS-HHS-HTI Director McMichael. “Help us fight this horrific crime. Help us educate those around you as to what slavery really looks like in a modern world. With your help, we can identify and remove victims from their situations of abuse and help them to recover.”