Building upon a legacy of anti-trafficking work with the backing of new leadership
There are an estimated 79,000 victims of sex trafficking in Texas at any given time. With a population of 1.3 million, Dallas is one of Texas’s largest cities and an epicenter for sexual exploitation. The city's underground commercial sex industry generates $99 million in profits annually. Children and young adults are particularly vulnerable—approximately 400 teens are sold for sex every night in Dallas.
Amy Derrick, Dallas
"We hope that our partnership with the Just Exits program will continue to accelerate our commitment to trauma-informed prosecution that follows nationally recognized best practices. We appreciate the opportunity to invigorate our fight against human trafficking in partnership with our local law enforcement and services partners with needed support from the Just Exits program."
Following the arrest of a defendant for various trafficking-related offenses, detectives from the Dallas Police Department (Dallas PD) uncovered evidence that the offender had directed others to intimidate the victim. Concerned for the victim's safety, the detectives contacted prosecutors from the Dallas County District Attorney's Office (Dallas DA), who were able to use the evidence of intimidation to increase the defendant's bail and charge him with additional crimes. This gave the victim-survivor the time to work with service providers to relocate safely. It also signaled to the victim-survivor that the criminal justice system was there to support her—with improved trust in law enforcement, she was able to share the full extent of the defendant's abuse.
Early communication and collaboration led to the creation of a strong support team surrounding the victim-survivor, helping to empower her to stand up to her abuser and seek safety for herself. Her courage and the information she shared enabled Dallas County to hold her trafficker accountable for the full scope of his crimes.
While Dallas has a history of nationally-recognized efforts to respond to sex trafficking and exploitation, changes in administrations and staffing have made these initiatives difficult to sustain. New leadership—both at the Dallas DA and in law enforcement—as well as a rising concern that victims were not receiving adequate support during the pandemic, have led the Dallas DA to re-prioritize its existing anti-human trafficking work. Through partnerships with allied agencies and programs, the Dallas DA is working to identify victims, connect them with services, and eliminate wrongful prostitution-related convictions. In recent years, cases flagged for human trafficking have increased—from 31 in 2017 to 161 in 2020—marking an increased awareness and understanding of trafficking dynamics.
In December 2020, after viewing AEquitas’ webinar, Assessing Culpability: Context Before Conviction, prosecutors from the Dallas DA applied to receive customized training and assistance through the Just Exits Initiative to build on their momentum. Over the course of the Just Exits Initiative, members of the Dallas DA and its partners will work with AEquitas staff and members of the Advisory Council to create and institutionalize a strategic and practical plan to combat human trafficking.
This plan will focus on building effective prosecutions against offenders; successfully identifying and engaging with victims in the system; and increasing and maintaining communication and collaboration between law enforcement, prosecutors, and service provider partners to support survivors to exit sexual exploitation. Members of the Advisory Council will bring years of both lived and professional experience to the collaboration. Their unique expertise will guide efforts to enhance victim-centered and trauma-informed practices focused on properly assessing the culpability of survivors in the system and maximizing off ramps from sexual exploitation.
- Training on trauma-informed investigations, techniques to maintain engagement with victims/survivors, and evidence-based prosecutions
- Creating a new multidisciplinary team to better coordinate victim/survivor services
- Building a process for assessing the culpability of survivors arrested for crimes, as well as a diversion program informed by survivor perspectives that minimizes harm to victims in the system
- Defining success beyond arrests and convictions
- Institutionalizing and sustaining efforts that will live beyond individual office champions
- Amy Derrick — Chief Assistant District Attorney (ADA) of the Crimes Against Children and Adult Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking Units, Dallas DA
- Shree Jackson — Human Trafficking Victim Advocate and Care Coordinator, Dallas DA
- Trey Stock — Chief ADA of the Adult Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking Unit, Dallas DA
- Gina Kennedy — Grant Writer and Just Exits Manager, Dallas DA