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Human trafficking web page

The Dallas Morning News carried an excellent opinion piece in its Feb. 23 edition about children and prostitution. The article, by Malika Saada Saar, expresses a broad national perspective. In Texas, we are actually doing better than reflected in Saar’s article, but we still have lots of work to do.

Saar points out that about 293,000 U.S. children are “at risk of being exploited and trafficked for sex, according to a 2011 FBI report on trafficking. Most are girls ages 12 to 14. They often are abducted or lured by pimps and traffickers, beaten into submission and sometimes even branded with the pimp’s name.” She tells of one 15-year-old girl being abducted on her way home from school.

The trafficking of children is a deep tragedy in and of itself, but a secondary tragedy occurs when the justice system treats them like criminals (prostitutes) instead of victims. This secondary problem can be attributed to inadequate laws, uninformed officers, and the lack of places for trafficking victims to be sent for protection.

In Texas, we have made some genuine, bi-partisan progress in changing laws regarding child prostitution, and the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission has been a critical advocate in making these changes. In the 2013 session, the legislature made the following changes:

HB 2268 (John Frullo) and SB 1052 ( John Carona) streamlined the investigations of Texas law enforcement officers into aspects of human trafficking taking place on the Internet.

SB 92 (Leticia Van de Putte) created a diversion court program for victims of human trafficking. In particular, the bill helps recognize victims of human trafficking as victims, not criminals, particularly in situations involving allegations of prostitution (many victims are minors and cannot legally consent to sex—this bill treats them accordingly). This addressed a key aspect of Saar’s article.

HB 2725 ( Senfronia Thompson) created parameters to help ensure the confidentiality of human trafficking shelters and their occupants.

Two years earlier, in 2011, the following bills also helped shore up the Texas fight against human trafficking:

HB 2015 (Thompson and Van de Putte) added minor prostitution to the list offenses eligible for “child in need of supervision.” This addressed one of the legal shortcomings cited in Saar’s article.

SB 24 (Van de Putte and Thompson) mandated urgent recommendations from the Attorney General’s 2011 report that added human trafficking to lists of crimes in the penal code, government code, and family code, code of criminal procedure, and civil practice and remedies code. The bill also addresses important victim protections.

HB 289 (Jim Jackson and Jane Nelson)  added human trafficking to the list of activities that cause a common nuisance in a community, allowing another avenue for law enforcement crack down on human trafficking operations in Texas.

HB 1994 (Randy Weber of Pearland and Van de Putte) made it permissible for local communities to hold a mandatory, day-long session for first-time “johns” (offenders who seek a prostitute), otherwise known as a “John School.” These sessions educate johns on the risks of having sex with a prostitute, including the reality of human trafficking, health risks, and other harms that come to their personal life and the community.

Saar’s article helps us all to understand the problem, and two Texas Baptist CLC web sites (general and policy) have more information.

We can all add a big “thank you” to the Texas Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry for helping us make progress against these terrible crimes.

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Bread for the World has announced its 2014 Offering of Letters to United States senators and representatives. Bread does not send these letters; Bread encourages and empowers individual Christians to conduct this annual letter-writing campaign, and this often occurs through churches. Full Story »

Capital

The Christian Life Commission has received a couple of questions about why it honored Texas Sen. Wendy Davis with its Horizon Award in 2012. As virtually everyone knows, Davis was thrust into the national political spotlight in June with her filibuster in opposition to a bill supported by many Texas Baptists, including me.

The CLC honored Sen. Davis last year for her support of various issues that are important to Texas Baptists, including opposition to predatory lending practices. The senator from Fort Worth has been vital to the legislative effort to limit immoral payday and auto title lending practices, which are devastating thousands of lives in our state.

The reality of working on public policy issues in Austin is that specific senators and representatives side with us on some issues and disagree with us on others. In our dealings with all elected officials we seek to be clear, truthful, and respectful whether or not an official agrees with us. This is one of the reasons the CLC has a great deal of influence in Austin; legislators trust us and respect us, though they do not always agree with us.

It would not be wise for Texas Baptists to make one issue the most important issue and sacrifice all of our other legislative concerns. Since life is sacred, we work hard to bring that understanding of life to bear on a wide range of issues. In other words, just as we value the life of a child in a mother’s womb, we also value that child after it is born and in need of nutrition, education, and security. And this sanctity of life does not end with childhood; we continue to value people throughout the life process, including their final years.

This approach to life is informed by Jesus’ injunction to care for “the least of these,” the most vulnerable among us. This is part of why the protection of unborn life is so very important; these children represent the most vulnerable among us. It would not be consistent with the teachings of Christ and of Scripture if the CLC set concern for pre-born life above concern for all human life; Jesus’ concern for the vulnerable covers all.

Abortion is indeed a critical issue and one which tugs at the heart of so many of us. We simply cringe with pain at some of what happens in our culture today. During the first special session, the CLC staff hand-delivered a letter from BGCT Executive Director David Hardage to each legislator’s office in the Capitol. These legislators, including Sen. Davis, know where we stand on these proposals.

Texas Baptists care deeply about the abortion issue because of the sacredness of life and the importance of caring for the most vulnerable among us. It would not, however, be wise for us to convey a message that this is the only issue that is important to the followers of Christ.

We care because we love, as God first loved us. That love seeks to protect the weak from the powerful, the hurting from those who seek to harm, and the least of these in a world that often honors the opposite. In Christ, God has brought salvation to the world. The sad reality of abortion reminds us that while we glimpse heaven through our walk with Christ, we  still have work to do–God’s work.

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(This is the final guest blog post by Leah Gonzalez, a master’s degree student in social work at the University of Texas in Austin.)

Just like there are individuals behind each story of extraordinary debt caused by payday and auto title loan, individuals make up the industry, as well.  It wouldn’t be fair to disregard what members of the payday and auto title loan industry have said in defense of their business. Full Story »

car title loans

(This is a guest blog post by Leah Gonzalez, a master’s degree student in social work at the University of Texas in Austin and a graduate of Howard Payne University.)

Several states have banned payday and auto title lending. At the end of July 2010 Arizona joined these ranks – kind of. It’s true; in 2010 Arizona enforced “Operation Sunset,” which made it illegal to provide a payday loan. Part of this operation includes a limit of 36 percent interest on other consumer loans. Research from the Arizona Attorney General concluded that these protective measures would benefit Arizona consumers by outlawing these risky lending practices.  Full Story »

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(This is a guest blog post by Leah Gonzalez, a master’s degree student in social work at the University of Texas in Austin and a graduate of Howard Payne University.)

The term used to describe illegally high interest rates applied to loans is “usury.” Usury laws set caps for interest rates of consumer and commercial loans. Payday and auto title loans are considered consumer loans.  Full Story »

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(This is a guest blog post by Leah Gonzalez, a master’s degree student in social work at the University of Texas in Austin and a graduate of Howard Payne University.)

It may not be difficult to imagine you’re in a place where your next paycheck is too far off with a bill looming over your head. Financial constraints are nothing new to many of us, but fortunately many of us also have reliable support or resources available to help. Full Story »