Before we formulated our comprehensive municipal response to human trafficking, we engaged in a 6-month long landscape analysis and spoke to over 250 stakeholders across the US and in Houston. This landscape analysis revealed gaping holes; the City’s anti-human trafficking strategic plan provides strengthbased solutions to the issues discovered. Since 2015, we have worked to execute all aspects of the plan with Phase 1 and 2 completed in September 2020. We continue to focus on human trafficking as our inaugural issue when Mayor Turner expanded our office to include domestic violence. We approached the domestic violence landscape in similar fashion and identified opportunities and gaps unique to this landscape. Our Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence Strategic Plan provides solutions that the Mayor’s Office is best suited to implement while supporting the existing eco-system of anti-trafficking and domestic violence organizations.

Human Trafficking

City Departments Not Uniformly Mobilized to Address Trafficking

  • We leveraged city departments’ and divisions’ existing day-to-day duties to incorporate a trafficking response and added multiple ways to implement policies, recognize and report, regulate, screen and refer, and self-recognize and report, supplementing traditional local law enforcement efforts.
  • Model policy-level solutions include Mayor Turner’s Executive Order to prevent labor trafficking in the city’s supply chain, amending the massage establishment ordinance to empower law enforcement to conduct city-wide canvasses, and the first hotel ordinance by a major U.S. city to mandate trafficking training and certification.
  • The Houston Police Department’s Human Trafficking Unit was the only division of a City department that was proactively engaged in combating human trafficking. This was standard practice and in line with the United Nations 4 P protocol and was also reflected in police departments across the US.

Awareness Campaigns Traditionally Rely on Low-Impact PSA Spots

  • Our analysis discovered some efforts to raise awareness to the issue, however, we noticed that we would never see the media campaign materials be it billboards or other signs in the densely populated and traveled areas of Houston. This was because organizations often took the free placements offered by partner companies. It was also a challenge to get the right awareness material into schools since the school system in Houston is decentralized; we leveraged the power of social media to overcome this challenge. The images and conversation in general were centered solely on sex trafficking with little attention on labor trafficking and almost no engagement of the corporate community and their supply chains.
  • Therefore, we created the multi-modal Watch for Traffick media campaign in 5 languages and secured public/private funds to pay for high-impact TV, radio, billboard, bus and taxi placements with a direct outreach component.
  • We leveraged the power of social media when we met barriers from schools and reached youth and parents/caregivers with a preventative and educational anti-luring collaborative social media campaign whose impact exceeded industry standards in an effort to reduce online grooming.
  • We raised the level of dialogue by engaging corporations to address supply chain risks to trafficking and forced labor during our Conscientious Capitalism: Labor Trafficking and Supply Chains event with 5 internationally-recognized experts.

Survivors Lack Easy Access to Short-Term Shelter and Psychological Services

  • Local stakeholders shared operational challenges they faced as they encountered people in crisis during outreach efforts. Access to quick shelter placement and systematic access to expedited medical and psychological resources was lacking as was systematic access to established resources for long term housing. 
  • Therefore, we leveraged our legal, financial, and administrative resources to create a shelter collaborative allowing partner agencies to place victims in crisis with shelter beds we reserved.
  • We created a bridge to Houston’s homeless coordinated access system by placing our 2 Mayor’s Office human trafficking case managers at an annex office in the shelter because the shelter conducts housing intake and has access to the city’s housing stock.
  • We placed a Human Trafficking Psychology Fellow at the county psychiatric unit to screen, provide psychological services, and refer potential victims of trafficking to our human trafficking case managers through an inter-local agreement.

Direct Outreach Not Systemic and Across Different Industries

  • The landscape analysis revealed that very few agencies conducted direct outreach and few had the ability or resources to translate outreach materials.
  • Therefore, we convened a Mayoral policy council with community-based partners to create industry-specific and multi-lingual outreach materials listing intake-style questions for distribution across 4 venues to increase victim identification.
  • We leveraged multiple law enforcement and public health agencies to engage in direct outreach during planned operations or field inspections.
  • We translated these materials into multiple languages to assist officers when they faced a language gap.

City Governments Here and Abroad were Not Broadly Engaged in the Fight Against Trafficking

  • We knew that as the first Mayor’s Office in the US to address human trafficking that we wanted to collect data on our initiatives to persuade other governments -local and national ones – to ensure that our comprehensive municipal model is replicated.
  • Therefore, we harnessed the United States Conference of Mayors to present on our model response to Mayors and Police Chiefs and secured passage of a resolution calling for replication of Houston’s approach.
  • We established Houston as the municipal model through our privately-funded domestic and international Human Trafficking Response Ten/Ten Municipal Fellowship providing a 2-day human trafficking immersion program for other Mayor’s offices immersing 18 US cities, 2 European cities and 2 nation states in our approach.
  • We were tapped by the Department of State to engage municipal officials, non-profits, and local law enforcement during human rights missions to Canada and India.

Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence

No Systematic Workforce Initiatives to Address Economic Abuse And Achieve Financial Security

  • Service providers typically relied on informal networks of contacts to connect survivors to job opportunities without a systematic program. Many survivors may be disqualified for prior convictions caused by their victimization, struggle in traditional workplaces not geared toward trauma-informed principles, or lack the necessary therapeutic and financial supports. Without economic independence, many survivors are caught in abusive relationships, and the gains they make with traditional social services are not fully realized.
  • We established MAKR Collective with Magpies & Peacocks (M&Ps), the nation’s only non-profit fashion design house, to put survivors on the path to economic independence by building job-ready skills in the sustainable fashion industry. Through a 30-day skills training and providing service and financial supports including continuing case management, financial counseling, weekly stipends, and a cash match program to double their small-dollar savings, survivors have the potential to be selected as independent makers, start an alterations business or even produce a capsule collection for M&P’s. For more information, visit: https://magpiesandpeacocks.org/makrcollective.

No Data-Informed Mapping to Inform Service Delivery and Address Service Deserts

  • Our domestic violence landscape analysis showed that there is no central hotline for survivors to call, and calls for service for domestic violence and homicide by local law enforcement are not analyzed in relationship to calls to the local hotline or available neighborhood-based vulnerability information.
  • We are engaging City of Houston departments to develop a dashboard to inform service delivery. It will consolidate local law enforcement reports and hotline calls and cross with social vulnerability information and demographic categories so that we can analyze relationships keeping in mind gaps in data. Once hotspots or service deserts are identified or an area is selected for proactive outreach, service providers can reallocate their resources.

Resources for Responsible Manhood and Mentoring Limited to Prevent Objectification of Women

  • We identified several faith-based organizations and programs in Houston that engaged men, but saw a need to broaden the audience. Existing programs stretched several weeks without an available short-term high-impact option for young men.
  • We will bring responsible manhood programs to Houston. Through mentorship and short intensive programming we aim to prevent potential gender based violence from occurring.
  • Our impact on culture will be made through our establishment of a NO MORE Chapter in Houston and continuously running social media campaigns year-long and during Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month in collaboration with domestic violence partners to amplify our message.

No Systematic Opportunity for Mentoring Rising Young Women to Make Local Impact on Equity

  • While several organizations offer mentoring programs in Houston, there was not one whose focus was on engaging rising young women from diverse backgrounds to further the conversation on gender and equity. We also heard from stakeholders the need for young women to be mentored by someone they could identify with.
  • We are developing the SHE for SHE program to advance equity by engaging young women Fellows reflective of Houston’s diversity to speak with Houston residents in guided conversations. Our comprehensive survey will track responses on all aspects of equity including how race, ethnicity, and gender play a role. Fellows will produce a findings report and undertake a project in their assigned neighborhood that addresses an obstacle to equity residents identified, such as offering a coding class.