New report gauges federal, state response to trafficking

Local advocate breaks down how the data affects San Antonio area

The new annual report shows in 2021 there were 140 new criminal human trafficking cases filed in the federal court system, down 22% from 2020.

SAN ANTONIO – A new report by the Human Trafficking Institute in Washington, D.C., a non-governmental organization that has issued trafficking reports every year since 2000, is giving insight into the fluctuating numbers of victims and cases across the nation.

The reports include every single human trafficking case brought to federal courts nationwide.

“We seek to decimate trafficking by empowering prosecutors and law enforcement investigators to educate them, train them in identifying victims of human trafficking and then successfully prosecuting those cases,” said Lindsey Lane, Human Trafficking Institute’s senior legal counsel.

The new annual report shows that, in 2021, there were 140 new criminal human trafficking cases filed in the federal court system, down 22% from 2020. Of those cases, 92% were sex trafficking, and 8% were forced labor.

There were also 449 new victims in 2021, down 25% from 2020.

“Sometimes, what that can mean is a lot of these cases are being charged at your local level. And that’s wonderful because that means the education we’re doing at our local law enforcement (agencies), our local communities, is working, and we’re seeing an increase in our state cases,” Lane said.

Lane said the problem is big in Texas, but so is the response.

The report shows that, in 2021, Texas had the third highest number of sex trafficking cases and the second-highest in labor trafficking cases.

“We have some great task force work being done in Texas. Texas led the country this year in the number of defendants charged for trafficking,” Lane said.

Locally, San Antonio police reported 23 trafficking cases in 2021 and 13 in 2022 so far.

“We launched our No Child Sold campaign for the purpose of waking up San Antonio in our community. But we wish there was a national campaign like this because not enough people know about this,” said April Molina, the communications director for Ransomed Life.

Ransomed Life cares for sex trafficking survivors and holds training sessions across the region to educate law enforcement, schools, parents and kids about how to spot and avoid trafficking.

Although numbers may seem high to some people, Molina said that is only a fraction of the actual number of victims.

“This is a problem. Technology is the gateway to access our children. We know that the M.O. of traffickers is seduction, not abduction. Many parents fear that their child will be kidnapped, and we know that, oftentimes, they’ve been grooming them for months before they ever leave with them,” Molina said.

She said the report offers crucial information, but she doesn’t want people to think that means the problem is not pervasive.

“Another thing that I think is a good perspective is that, during 2020 and 2021, federal courts were closed down several different times because of COVID. So we know there’s a backlog in the courts, and that also could be a reason for these reduced numbers,” Molina said.

Molina explained that the details in these reports could help law enforcement learn more about how and where to rescue children.

“Are they using Snapchat? Are they using Discord? We actually had a mom call us and tell us that her child is being targeted on Pinterest,” Molina said.

A lot of that information is disseminated in the report.

“What are some of the demographics or information we can glean from the traffickers? What are the recruitment techniques? What are their coercive techniques?” Lane questioned.

The Human Trafficking Institute advocates for the collaboration between federal, state, and local prosecutors and investigators. That data will, in turn, allow lawmakers, nonprofits, and victims themselves to create change.

To learn more about the signs of trafficking and what to do if you suspect something, head to the Ransomed Life website’s Knowledge Hub.

To set up a training session at your workplace or school, call 210-514-4384 or email info@ransomedlifetexas.org.

If you want to get involved, Ransomed Life has its upcoming Prayer Breakfast, a fundraiser that offers people a way to learn more about child sex trafficking in our city and be part of the solution.

The Prayer Breakfast will be on Monday, Aug. 1, from 8:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. at Community Bible Church Room: Central, located at 2477 N Loop 1604.


About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.