By Ava Motes

The State Affairs forum preliminary committee passed a proposal dubbed “Human trafficking in Texas” along to further rounds. The proposition, authored by Oak Ridge High School delegates Sameer Ali, Presley Taylor, and Kristin White, takes a multifaceted approach to prevent and aid victims of sex-trafficking. This endeavor is composed of three aims: a mandated K-12 educational initiative, spreading awareness via billboards, and legally challenging the denotation of victims as prostitutes.

“I initially wanted to address sex trafficking after learning about the Cyntoia Brown case,” Ali said. According to Ali, Cyntoia Brown was coerced into a sex-trafficking ring at age 14, enduring two years of sexual abuse before she killed a man who had been raping her. Brown argued that her actions were in self-defense in hopes of reducing her charges to manslaughter. However, the prosecution prevailed, trying Brown as an adult and sentencing her to 51-years-to-life in prison for homicide. She was granted clemency after serving 17 years, but 77 thousand girls in the United States remain imprisoned as a result of similar situations.

“Cynthia was called a prostitute instead of a victim, which reveals a huge problem with sex-trafficking legislation,” Ali said. “We want to change this so we can identify them as victims and keep them from serving hard time for something that was self-defense.” There is a wealth of stigma surrounding sex-trafficking and abuse, which not only works against victims in the courtroom, but can also prevent bystanders and at-risk individuals from seeking help.

“It’s really important that we spread awareness and teach people how identify victims and keep from falling into it,” said Taylor. On a national scale, nearly 54 percent of minors receive sexually abusive texts or propositions. Additionally, 79 thousand victims of trafficking in Texas were abducted as minors, never receiving the information needed to evade abduction and escape captivity. The trio aimed to address these concerns through a K-12 educational program that teaches students how to identify victims, report cases of sex-trafficking, and protect themselves from the dangers of such predation.

“The program is mandatory, which we’ve gotten a lot of questions about because parents may be uncomfortable with their students being exposed to this,” said Taylor, “but we think it is important for youths to understand sex-trafficking, since they are the most at-risk.” Sex-trafficking is an objectively mature topic, but the proposed curriculum is specifically tailored to each age group. “Similar to the structure of TEKS, each age group will be addressed on an age-appropriate levels. Kindergartners may cover basic stranger-danger while seniors will be taught how to notice and advocate and who to call,” said Ali.

“We’re also going to work to set up billboards on the highway so more people are getting this information,” said White. According to Taylor and White, the majority of trafficking transactions occur along along highways and beneath underpasses. By honing their attention upon users of the Texas roadway system, the group hopes to alert possible witnesses and provide imperative hotline information. “The billboards will encourage advocacy and provide a phone number and website that people can use to report incidents. The hotlines can be anonymous, so we realy want to promote that resource,” said Taylor.

Taylor, White, and Ali’s proposition was met with varied feedback. Four delegates relayed their support, emphasizing the internationally dire nature of this situation and the importance of educating at-risk individuals. However, Josue Cabrera of the Moorland delegation voiced his concern regarding the effectivenes of the K-12 educational program. He compared this to “red ribbon week”, an in-school campaign to prevent minor drug usage that he feels has not had an impact upon students. Ali and Taylor, however, argued that  “red ribbon week” targets addiction while their proposition is concerned with preventing cyclical violence.

“Many students want to do drugs, but I can gaurantee that no one wants to become a victim of human trafficking. It is an issue of violence, and we should be doing everything in our power to inform and save lives,” said Taylor. According to White, anyone can become a victim, and an issue of this breadth cannot go unaddressed. White, Ali, and Taylor’s presentation raised a compelling moral obligation, and they managed to successfully defend their proposition. By emphasizing the importance of spreading awareness and defending victims, the team was enabled to fight for their proposition in further founds.