EDITORIAL

It is possible to fight sex trafficking, and these stories give us hope

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When we think about a problem as terrible and widespread as sexual trafficking is in this world, we can be overwhelmed by the idea of confronting it. 

It is so big and so awful, what can any one of us do? As people who pay close attention to trafficking in our own region, we understand how a sense of despair can set in.

But we also know where to look for signs of hope and recognize that it is possible to make progress in this fight.

We thought of this recently after reading three separate news items about trafficking. Each of the stories is good news in its own way: a 14-year-old girl was rescued in Odessa from the clutches of two men accused of selling her; 47 people were locked up after a massive sting in Katy involving 22 law enforcement agencies; and, finally, Attorney General Ken Paxton is fighting in federal court to uphold a law that has helped curtail the power of Internet sex trafficking.

Thinking about these three stories gives us a sense of the ways that our society is working to face this evil. And they give us ideas about how we can continue to improve this effort.

The first story reminds us of how important it is for each one of us to be alert to the signals someone is being trafficked. A 14-year-old girl was taken from Garland to Odessa. Two brothers, PJ Russell Proctor and Marshall Wayne Dillon Woolis, now stand charged with drugging and sexual assaulting the child. Woolis' girlfriend, Ashley Jacobson, is charged with trafficking and other crimes related to the girl's abuse.

The victim was rescued because someone heard something and took action. According to police, a person staying in an adjacent room to the one where the girl was stashed overheard men talking about sexually assaulting a 14-year-old. The lesson here it that we can't be afraid to speak up, to contact law enforcement or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 if we see or hear something that isn't right. We can looks for signs of trafficking that we have outlined before.

The second story demonstrates how crucial it is for law enforcement to continue coordinating on the local, state and federal level. "Operation Tri Point" in the Katy area led to the arrest of 20 men and 27 women in connection with human trafficking. The youngest of their alleged victims was a 16-year-old girl. Stings like this create real consequences. Because trafficking is a crime based in financial gain, such consequences go a long way toward deterrence.

There is another lesson here. Most of the victims were "recruited" into the life of sexual victimization primarily through social media. This is another reminder that, beginning very early, young people need to be educated about what is lurking online.

Families, schools, churches and more need to get smarter about explaining the dangers of the Internet.

This brings us to the last piece of news. Paxton has had to join a legal fight in order to protect some important changes to the law that have helped address prolific human trafficking on the Internet. Paxton led a 21-state coalition in urging the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington to reject a constitutional challenge to the Allow States to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act. The 2018 act, also known SESTA, reformed the 1996 Communications Decency Act to allow civil liability claims against online platforms that host sex trafficking ads.

The bill forced online sex trafficking deeper into the shadows, protecting untold numbers of potential victims. The act must be protected. The fact that it needs legal defense shows how crucial it is for top elected officials like Paxton to be willing to face down powerful forces like big tech in the search for tools to address human trafficking.

These three stories are important examples of the way human trafficking must be fought. At the level of policy, law enforcement and everyday people, work needs to be done and is being done.

Seeing that work, and supporting that work, gives us hope that we can continue to make progress against this darkness in our midst.

— Reprinted with permission from the Dallas Morning News

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