Children At Risk
By: Tania Staley
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Human trafficking is not just an international problem. Several thousand people fall prey to human trafficking every year in the United States, and due to its location near the border, diverse population, and major traffic corridors, many of these victims pass through Texas. It is believed that our own children are the largest group at risk of sex trafficking in the United States. CHILDREN AT RISK, an organization based in Houston, has been working to give aid and a voice to child trafficking victims. CHILDREN AT RISK’s mission is to serve “as a catalyst for change to improve the quality of life for children through strategic research, public policy analysis, education, collaboration, and advocacy.” They focus on the well-being of the whole child and educate legislators on the needs of children in all areas, including health, safety, and economics. Their core values are: children first, integrity, collaboration, optimism, meaningful change, and passion.
In 1989, a group of child advocates became aware of the lack of data associated with children and the lack of support for Houston’s children. Utilizing a grant from the March of Dimes, they developed a 60 page book called “Children At Risk” and released it at a 1990 Legislative Forum. Their hope was to educate legislatures on the needs of Houston’s children, in order to drive them into action. Unfortunately, they were disappointed by the lack of response. This failure, however, led them to the realization that Houston’s children needed a strong advocate, and on October 2, 1991,
CHILDREN AT RISK was recognized as a not-for-profit organization. Since then, the organization has grown from researching the obstacles children face to being a leading organization for the advocacy of children and a policy changer at the city and state level. In 2006, they opened their Public Policy & Law Center. It is the first of its kind in Texas. In 2008, the organization expanded to North Texas, and in 2011, they opened their Dallas office.An important focus for CHILDREN AT RISK is putting an end to human trafficking.
In 2007, they created the Center to End the Trafficking and Exploitation of Children. This program seeks to combat sex trafficking by educating others, uniting nonprofit and community leaders, halting the demand for sex trafficking, and supporting victims. A primary goal for this center is to increase the punishments and penalties for benefactors of sex trafficking and provide better protection for victims. The center stresses the importance of changing the attitude towards commercial sexual exploitation. In order to decrease the demand for sex trafficking, those who partake in commercial sex must be seen and punished for the predators they are, the attitude of “boys will be boys” must end, and trafficking victims must be treated as victims, rather than criminals. CHILDREN AT RISK has made and continues to make significant strides in these areas by pushing for reform in public policy and raising awareness across the state. The fight against traffickers is far from over, but with organizations like CHILDREN AT RISK striving for change, there is hope for a better future. For more information on CHILDREN AT RISK’s latest activities and how you can get involved, please visit www.childrenatrisk.org.
Success Story: Focusing on Demand
The primary focus in the anti-trafficking movement has been to punish traffickers and provide services to survivors. These efforts are crucial, but another component of human trafficking must not go unnoticed: demand. CHILDREN AT RISK is leading the charge to address demand for sex trafficking in Texas by partnering with local agencies and bringing the conversation to statewide policymakers. The organization has launched initiatives in both Houston and North Texas in which multi-stakeholder teams collaborate to implement tactics to target demand for commercial sex. Outcomes from these teams have been promising and immediate. Law enforcement agencies have seen an increase in the number of arrests of buyers. In a recent national initiative to target sex buyers, Houston area law enforcement arrested more buyers than any other jurisdiction. Additionally, the trainings and resources from the collaboration have resulted in additional children being rescued from the sex trade while their traffickers face criminal charges.
Texas lawmakers are also receptive to the demand-reduction message being carried by CHILDREN AT RISK. During the most recent legislative session, CHILDREN AT RISK worked with public officials to create laws which addressed demand in a number of ways. For the first time, Texas law recognizes that sex buyers play a unique role in the underground sex economy. Additionally, laws were passed which make it easier to bring felony level charges against those attempting to purchase sex from minors and require these predators to register as sex offenders. Finally, CHILDREN AT RISK worked hard to see the creation of the Human Trafficking Prevention Business Partnership. This program will be administered by the Office of the Secretary of State and will provide a resource to entities wishing to ensure their businesses are not facilitating human trafficking or fueling demand for exploitation.
To learn more about Houston-based Children At Risk, please visit their website: CHILDREN AT RISK | Speaking Out and Driving Change for Children. www.childrenatrisk.org