In 2015, the Houston Mayor’s office was the first city in the US to establish a full-time position in the Mayor’s cabinet to address labor and sex trafficking through a municipal lens and to develop a comprehensive model for our city that included leveraging city departments, increasing awareness at scale, filling gaps in services, increasing screenings in the public health arena and ensuring our comprehensive municipal response serves as a model.

At the Houston Mayor’s Office, we mine the tremendous opportunity that exists within municipal government to address trafficking. Our goal was to supplement the long-established paradigm laid out in the United Nations Palermo Protocol later developed into the 4 P framework which focuses on law enforcement investigations and prosecutions of traffickers while providing services.

In 2020 the Mayor’s Office expanded the Anti-Trafficking Division to include Domestic Violence and released a new Strategic Plan with Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the Anti-Trafficking Strategic Plan completed but with much work remaining. We utilize the same systems- and policy-level approach as before by leveraging the strengths of the Mayor’s Office. We maintain focus on human trafficking while addressing domestic violence through 8 Impact Pathways undergirded by 4 central themes: increasing equity through economic security, ending violence by assessing the services landscape and ensuring access to life saving support, preventing violence through cultural and social change, and increasing equity through civic engagement.

What is Human Trafficking?

Human Trafficking is the recruitment or transportation of anyone—using threats, fraud, or force—for the purpose of exploitation.

Generally, human trafficking is classified into two categories: labor trafficking and sex trafficking; however, these categories are not mutually exclusive.

Labor Trafficking

Labor trafficking is when people are exploited for labor or services—through the use of force, fraud or coercion—for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.

Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking is when someone uses force, fraud, or coercion to cause a commercial sex act. A commercial sex act could be prostitution, pornography, or sexual performance in exchange for any item of value. Force, fraud or coercion is not required if the person is 17 or under.

Human Trafficking is not the same as human smuggling. Smuggling requires a person to cross a political border without proper authorization. Human trafficking does not require movement though the term implies it.

Child Trafficking

Children are particularly susceptible to being victims of trafficking. Child trafficking victims may be recruited for labor and/or sexual exploitation but may also be trafficking related to the organ–trafficking market and recruitment of child soldiers for gangs.

Online Trafficking

Online trafficking is another form of human trafficking. There is not a single definition of online trafficking because of the complexity, novelty, and breadth of activities that may be included in online trafficking. Online trafficking has recently increased due to the development of technology, and may involve the use of technology (i) to recruit victims, (ii) to arrange the exploitation of the victim by the person who pays for it, and (iii) to provide visual materials for the exploitation of the victim, among others.

What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence occurs within an intimate partner relationship where physical, emotional, economic and other forms of abuse are used by one partner to exert power and control over the other partner. Abuse occurs along a spectrum and includes threats, intimidation, and other behaviors that cause fear.