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City departments team up to fight human trafficking

Monday, November 23, 2020 by Miriam E Jewell

Local officials continue to emphasize that human trafficking has no place in Austin, where the crime is officially recognized by the city as a “human rights concern impacting Austin residents, businesses and communities.”

In a recent memorandum, the city laid out the various ways it is working to identify and address human trafficking. In addition to working with organizations such as Central Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking, The Refuge, Refugee Services of Texas and Allies Against Slavery, the city’s police, fire, EMS and code departments have increased training and prevention methods in an effort to reduce human trafficking.

According to the memo, the Austin Police Department is working with the community to facilitate awareness and education about human trafficking outside of the department’s Human Trafficking & Child Exploitation Unit and its collaboration with Human Trafficking Task Forces. These specialized teams work to identify victims and prosecute traffickers through proactive and reactive investigations.

This year, the Human Trafficking & Child Exploitation Unit will share online training with other city departments in order “to provide staff with key information to be able to detect signs of trafficking and know how to appropriately report it,” the memo reads.

The memo proposes including educational material in the code department’s training curriculum. Additionally, the code department hopes to provide online resources on identifying human trafficking and filing a report, and will collaborate with other departments to promote public awareness on the topic.

In the Austin Fire Department, 1,192 firefighters attended a human trafficking awareness training last year to help them identify signs of trafficking. The Austin-Travis County EMS is still working to determine the best way to expand training.

In 2015, when the city’s official focus on human trafficking began, City Council passed a resolution addressing the risk of trafficking in Travis County. The resolution cited a U.S. National Association of Counties finding that “more than four out of five counties with populations above 250,000, including Travis County, report that human trafficking is a problem while one in two counties of the same size report that human trafficking arrests are increasing.”

At the time the resolution passed, an estimated 35.8 million men, women and children were being trafficked or held captive by human traffickers.

The resolution referenced the Global Slavery Index definition of human trafficking, which is “one person possessing or controlling another person in such as a way as to significantly deprive that person of their individual liberty, with the intention of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer, or disposal.”

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