Texas receives ‘C’ grade on child sex trafficking response; not all bad news

Survivor turned expert goes over nonprofit’s recent report

SAN ANTONIO - – Karla Solomon was trafficked as a child and then again as an adult for a total of six and a half years.

DPS agents finally rescued her in 2016 from a dangerous trafficker now serving two 30-year sentences.

“Meeting this person led to me witnessing and experiencing attempted murder, starvation, abuse sexually, physically, in every way possible,” Solomon said.

‘My Prince Charming turned into a monster’: Local woman survives sex trafficking

Her wounds, physically and emotionally, seemed impossible to heal, but she stood tall and is now one of the most trusted survivor experts in the state and nation.

Solomon is a trafficking and education consultant for the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Public Safety, the Texas Governor’s Office, and the Texas State Bar Association.

“I’ve supported girls that are going through trial, whether it’s them being a defendant in their own case or testifying as a victim in somebody else’s case,” Solomon said. “Over the past year or so, I’ve been customizing and developing training specific to attorneys and judges.”

On top of that, she is the director of outreach and training for Mercy Gate Ministries, which is a Hill Country organization for survivors of trafficking and exploitation over 18 years old. Residential, non-residential family and courtroom programs are available to those who qualify.

The long list of positions makes her beyond qualified to respond to the latest report from the national nonprofit Shared Hope International, which annually gives each state a grade for how they handle child sex trafficking.

The Report Cards are the result of a comprehensive analysis and assessment of all legal responses to child and youth sex trafficking in each state. They evaluate 40 policy goals in six issue areas, assigning points that can tally up to 100. A letter grade is then assigned — A, B, C, D, or F — based on their score.

For 2023, Texas received a “C” grade, which may sound low, but Texas is actually in the top 6 states. That’s an improvement for Texas over 2021 and 2022.

Texas is among only nine states to achieve full credit for its criminal provisions.

The good news is that the state does the following:

  • Requires the Texas Juvenile Justice Department to evaluate the use of screening tools for purposes of identifying and responding to commercial sexual exploitation
  • Allows trafficking victims to seek ex parte civil orders of protection against their exploiters
  • Mandates statewide, trafficking-specific training for Department of Family and Protective Services personnel and school personnel

“One of the most important pieces of this fight is the accurate training and education,” Solomon said.

Solomon applauds Texas laws on trafficking training, much of which she develops and delivers.

KSAT was there when all San Antonio airport workers, not just city employees, received training last year.

“We’re trying, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Solomon said.

One thing Texas is continually dinged for is being one of 21 states that still charges minors with prostitution.

“They need a safe place to go and get away from this situation rather than be punished along with the person that’s doing this to them,” Solomon said.

She said that shows how much training is still necessary so people can understand the trauma victims are suffering.

“People automatically think that they chose that, that was their choice, that they could have left at any time,” Solomon said. “That’s wrong.”

The report shows Texas has introduced legislation aimed at preventing minors from being criminalized for prostitution year after year. Despite the introduction of Safe Harbor legislation during the 2023 session, Texas remains one of the states that allow the charges.

When asked about the trafficking-related bills that fall flat in the Legislature, Solomon said, “We as survivors have pushed for bills to be on the floor, be looked at, pushed through and all the things. And it is so heartbreaking. If we don’t have the laws and legislation in place, then all of our efforts are or could be for nothing.”

Solomon said survivors need to be the first people included when new ideas are introduced.

“We as survivors, the ones that are leaders in this fight, should definitely be included in the initial conversations about things that have to do with trafficking in our state,” she said.

As a point of change, Shared Hope International has strengthened its grading criteria to shift the focus from just criminal laws to victim-centered responses and services.

Those are the services Solomon’s organization, Mercy Gate Ministries, offers.

“When a survivor immediately leaves their situation, they need that immediate assistance and recovery from a dangerous situation and taken to a safe place,” Solomon said.

On that front, Solomon said there are not near enough safe havens for trafficking survivors in Texas.

“We have a lot of agencies and organizations in our state who provide that immediate assistance, but they are so few and far between. They most of the time don’t have beds, or they don’t have staffing available,” she said.

That doesn’t mean Solomon turns people away.

“I’ve had to actually rely on organizations that cover the entire nation rather than serve just Texas because we don’t have that many here. And the ones that we do have are so full that they can’t even make room,” she explained.

As advocates fight to create more space for those survivors, people like Solomon are thinking hard about prevention.

To prevent survivors from needing those scarce beds, Solomon is begging parents to teach their kids about trafficking.

“My daughter’s 12. She knows all the signs. She knows everything that she could possibly know about how to protect herself, not just online but in person, too, against somebody who could be trying to manipulate her,” Solomon said.

She said the more kids know, the more they can protect themselves and their peers.

Many age-appropriate teaching tools are available for parents, educating them and helping them figure out how to talk to their kids.

The nationwide organization Solomon uses is called the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, which offers great training, videos, and information on the subject.

Ransomed Life Texas is another program that provides educational seminars at local schools, businesses, or faith-based organizations.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.

Adam Barraza is a photojournalist at KSAT 12 and an El Paso native. He interned at KVIA, the local ABC affiliate, while still in high school. He then moved to San Antonio and, after earning a degree from San Antonio College and the University of the Incarnate Word, started working in news. He’s also a diehard Dodgers fan and an avid sneakerhead.