Contact: Anne Chandler, Tahirih Houston Director
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
City’s settlement with topless clubs will fund new unit
Tahirih Houston commends city officials for launching a special police unit dedicated solely to the investigation and eradication of human trafficking in Houston. The unit will be housed within the Vice Division of the Houston Police Department.
Houston city officials announced the creation of the unit today at a press conference. A settlement between the city and 16 topless clubs establishes a funding mechanism for the unit, and ends three legal disputes over the city’s sexually-oriented businesses ordinance that date to 1997. The clubs will contribute more than $1 million annually to the city’s Human Trafficking Abatement Fund. Houston Mayor Annise Parker released details about the settlement and the new unit at a morning press conference at Houston City Hall.
Officials have called Houston a hub for trafficking due to its size, diversity and close proximity to a major port and the U.S.-Mexico border. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center, a toll-free hotline, received 20,652 trafficking-related reports in 2012; approximately 10 percent of the calls were from cities and town in Texas.
Tahirih Houston provides free legal representation and social services to immigrant women and girls who have experienced human trafficking and other forms of violence throughout the greater Houston and Galveston metropolitan area. The office has provided free legal services to 25 victims of human trafficking since it opened in 2009. Tahirih Houston staff also act as consultants to law enforcement, nonprofits and government agencies on the issue of human trafficking.
“At Tahirih, we meet courageous survivors of trafficking after they have experienced tremendous trauma, and have embarked on the long road to recovery. We’re committed to helping survivors access the legal remedies they are entitled to under U.S. law, and connecting women and girls with the vital social services they need to get back on their feet and live in safety and with dignity,” said Anne Chandler, director of Tahirih Houston.
Chandler participated in Wednesday’s conference as an information source, and serves as the chair of Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HRTA) Pro Bono Legal Group. HTRA is a collaboration of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies working together with area social service organizations to identify and assist victims of human trafficking and to effectively identify, apprehend and prosecute those engaged in trafficking offenses.
The Pro Bono Legal Group is an arm of the HTRA charged with enabling survivors’ full recovery. Composed of 12 nonprofit service providers, the group facilitates culturally-sensitive pro bono legal referrals and provides training materials and technical assistance to pro bono attorneys who represent trafficking survivors.
In response to Houston’s creation of a special anti-trafficking police unit, Chandler said: “If we want to make a difference, we must go beyond identifying the victims of modern-day slavery, and go after the criminals behind this gross violation of human rights. It takes courage to recognize that this type of unthinkable exploitation is happening right here in Houston. But courage has never been in short supply among our law enforcement officers. We all know it also takes money and resources, and I am very pleased to see this level of dedication to the issue. Together, let’s send a strong message to criminals: we see you, and human trafficking will not be tolerated in Houston.”
Prior to joining Tahirih in 2009, Chandler served as a clinical professor and interim director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Houston Law Center.