Sex and slave labor is a problem in Bexar County, advocate says

BCFS Health & Human Services says 80,000 minors are trafficked in Texas

SAN ANTONIO – Children as young as 4 years old have been victims of human trafficking in the Bexar County community, according to Chara McMichael, executive director of the Human Trafficking Interdiction Division for BCFS Health & Human Services.

McMichael said she would see about one referral request for survivor services a week when she started her position a couple of years ago. She said it’s not uncommon for her to see several referrals a day now.

BCFS Health & Human Services operates in a few main regions: the Houston area, San Antonio area, Williamson County, and the Rio Grande Valley.

McMichael said Bexar County creates a perfect corridor for human traffickers to travel through.

“Multiple major highway corridors and their connections enable for the easy flow of the traffic,” she said.

McMichael said online exploitations have increased with young students being pushed into online learning. She said more education and advocacy are needed to prevent children from becoming victims and help survivors.

“Statistics will show that within 24 hours, one in three runaways is sold into sex trafficking. Approximately 40 percent of runaways end up in labor trafficking,” McMichael said. “Parents often aren’t equipped to handle that, and as a result, the kids run again. And so we see a lot of recidivism as a result.”

She hopes that a Texas law that was recently upgraded will help make sure trafficking suspects are held accountable.

House Bill 1540 makes the purchase of sex from an adult a state jail felony on the first offense. Purchasing from a minor is already a second-degree felony. The law also goes after owners who turn a blind eye to human trafficking on their property.

“Where that has already been implemented in California, they have seen a significant reduction because the owners are getting involved, and they’re starting to clear out their own businesses and ensure that we have reputable operators that are operating within their buildings,” McMichael said.

San Antonio city ordinances enforced by the Dangerous Risk Assessment Team, DART, focus on problem properties. The city says although there was a lack of evidence to bring charges in the handful of suspected human trafficking properties, they were able to close the locations.

Kerr County Sheriff’s Office is teaming up with area law enforcement to conduct sex stings and is always looking for information on possible victims of human trafficking.

Captain Jason Waldrip said these cases are hard to crack.

“Victims are in some sort of duress or threat to prevent them from speaking out, or they have a distrust for police,” he said.

Police press those they arrest for any information that could lead them to more victims.

McMichael said human trafficking could include both sex and slave labor. She said slave labor is often found in local hotels, manufacturing facilities, kitchens, massage parlors or even in plain sight, where a child is put to peddle on street corners.

There are many signs to look for in a victim of human trafficking, click here to learn more.

About the Author

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.

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