Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg on Monday announced state grants totaling more than $4 million toward services for victims of sex trafficking and violent crime.
The Texas Governor's Criminal Justice Division awarded four separate grants totaling $4.4 million to provide better victim services and criminal prosecution in cases of violent crimes and sex trafficking, Ogg said.
"Violent criminals toss victims into the criminal justice system without regard to the harm they are inflicting," Ogg said. "It is traumatic, stressful and confusing."
The grants were announced during a morning news conference at the Children's Assessment Center, which specializes in treating sexually abused children.
A weeklong undercover investigation led to 277 arrests related to human trafficking and online prostitution, deputies in Polk County say.
Media: Fox 13 Tampa
No. 1 city for trafficking calls
The grants are symbolic of a much larger victim-focused paradigm shift that Andrea Sparks, director of the governor's Child Sex Trafficking Office, said will be taking place throughout Texas, beginning in Houston. The grants are to be issued over the next two years, according to a news release from Ogg's office.
The fact that Houston is the No. 1 city for calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline indicates the magnitude of the problem, she said, but it also demonstrates the local awareness of the issue and willingness to call for help.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the increased funding will allow the county to continue improvements in sex crime prosecution.
"In recent years, the Harris County Sheriff's Office has shifted its efforts to curb prosecution away from those who are selling their own bodies for sex and focusing instead on the johns who seek them out," Gonzalez said.
The shift is already reflected in prostitution-related charges that have been filed this year, Gonzalez said.
During 2016 in Harris County, 1,405 charges were filed against women and sellers and 708 against buyers. To date in 2017, Gonzalez said, charges have been filed against 971 buyers and only 820 women and sellers.
"No child plans to enter the sex industry when they grow up," Gonzalez said. "The women, and even some men, trapped in the human trafficking web are victims, not criminals. This is why the Harris County Sheriff's Office partners with many organizations that work with these victims to help them escape their abusers and get their lives back on track."
Doubling staff to help victims
Sparks said the programs to be funded by the grants will allow law enforcement to better serve victims by gearing anti-trafficking efforts toward their assistance.
"If Houston is the No. 1 city in calls to the Human Trafficking Hotline, let's make it the No. 1 city in trauma-informed response to its victims," Sparks said.
Of the grants, Ogg said $1 million will be directed toward more prosecution and increased victim and referral services - allowing adults arrested on prostitution charges to be referred to resources instead of spending multiple days in jail.
Another $3 million is intended for victims of violent "crimes against people," Ogg said, allowing her to double the size of the Harris County District Attorney's Office Victim Witness Division staff.
Ogg said the final $400,000 will provide increased prosecution and victim services for those affected by domestic violence....Read more