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Jan 26, 2021

Join TABC in the Fight Against Human Trafficking

Allison Franklin was lost. After the violent death of her dad and frequent sexual abuse plagued her youth, Allison said she found herself homeless on the streets of Houston — until a predator lured her into a life of servitude. Her story is one of thousands of reasons TABC fights human trafficking.

When Allison shared her story in a TABC video last year, she wanted people to know that they can play a role in stopping human trafficking.

“I wish I didn’t have that story to tell,” she said. “I wish I had a different story to tell but I hope that my story inspires others to make sure this doesn’t happen to someone else.”

As January marks Human Trafficking Prevention Month in Texas, TABC wants to show why fighting this crime is so vital and how everybody can play a part in saving lives.

What Is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is a crime that can hide in plain sight. Traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to lure victims and force them into domestic labor or commercial sex work.

It’s happening in businesses and communities across Texas. More than 300,000 people are estimated to be victims of human trafficking in the state, including 79,000 young victims of sex trafficking, according to a University of Texas study.

Why TABC Fights Human Trafficking

TABC’s uniquely capable law enforcement component oversees the state’s alcohol industry and has access to powerful tools to eradicate human trafficking. Organized criminal activity, like trafficking, can hide in businesses the agency licenses — including nightclubs, bars, restaurants and cantinas.

“Because we issue the permits to licensed premises, we can go in and conduct inspections on a regular basis, and this gives us the opportunity to uncover criminal activities, especially when it comes to human trafficking,” said Major John Wall, who oversees TABC’s Special Investigations Unit, which contains a team of investigators specially trained to conduct complex criminal investigations. 

TABC has 229 commissioned peace officers to cover the entire state, so the agency partners with other law enforcement agencies, industry members and nongovernmental organizations to act as force multipliers. And when TABC investigates trafficking operations, the agency has the dual abilities of rescuing victims and removing unfair and illegal economic advantage by canceling an offending business’s alcohol license.

The agency’s growing role in the fight against human trafficking became official in 2019, when the Texas Legislature made preventing and combating trafficking a top priority for TABC. This charge also came with an influx of manpower and funding to aid the fight.

Recent Activities

TABC has used the Legislature’s investment to build a foundation to dismantle trafficking in Texas.

Just in the last year, a Criminal Intelligence Unit was created to provide analytical support for trafficking investigations, and the Special Investigations Unit staff was nearly doubled to 45 investigators.

TABC has helped rescue or identify nearly 100 victims of trafficking and canceled four licenses based on trafficking investigations in the last fiscal year. The agency also joined forces with six local, state and federal agencies to share intelligence and resources, and collaborate on task force operations.

“Having long arms to reach out across the state is huge,” Financial Crimes Unit Sergeant Henry Guevara said during a recent trafficking investigation. “We have cases that started in San Antonio and end up with victims in Amarillo. Having agents all over the state being able to handle those cases makes us more effective as an agency.”

Another crucial tool in the fight is training. Trafficking investigations are highly complex and require special training to identify the crime. Last year TABC developed and launched four courses ranging from basic to advanced. They included:

  • A 36-hour basic undercover course for TABC agents.
  • A more intensive three-week course for agents that included classroom and real-world training about topics ranging from policy to interviewing victims.
  • A course designed to provide agents, auditors and licensing staff with a basic understanding of how to spot suspicious activity and investigate financial crimes tied to organized crime.
  • An online training produced by TABC and the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service in partnership with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement that peace officers across the state can take to get basic and intermediate-level continuing education credits.

Helping Victims Heal

TABC is also strengthening efforts to connect survivors of trafficking to crucial services that can help them transition into regular life. An Office of the Governor grant has allowed the agency to contract a victim services coordinator who specializes in helping survivors recover.

“Being able to access services that were meaningful was the turnaround for me,” Allison said. “The real turnaround was being identified as a victim of human trafficking.”

The agency has worked with four nongovernmental organizations to provide services to survivors: Refugee Services of Texas, YMCA, Unbound and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Working with these organizations and with victims also provides insights that improve investigations.

“With helping victims like Allison, we can understand the mindset of what a victim has been through,” Major Wall said. “If we can dive into that and understand their plight, then we can better engage the victims as we conduct these investigations and provide a better response.”

Getting the Word Out

TABC has reached millions through public awareness campaigns and industry education efforts, but our work isn’t done.

All January long, TABC has been sharing trafficking resources and information to commemorate Human Trafficking Prevention Month in Texas. There are several ways communities and businesses can support the fight, whether by spreading the word or requesting that TABC train your employees to spot the warning signs and report trafficking.

TABC has laid a strong foundation for combating trafficking. To help end these crimes, all Texans can report suspicious activity and join the fight.

Visit our Stop Human Trafficking page to learn more, and follow TABC on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the agency’s efforts against human trafficking.