Human trafficking is a form of human slavery, said a Texas legislator at a press conference on the steps of the Texas Capitol in Austin on Thursday morning.

Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) emphasized that “human trafficking is human slavery,” that “every one of God’s children has a right to live a full and free life,” and that bipartisan efforts were ongoing in Texas “to eradicate this horrible injustice.”

Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), a leading figure in pursuing anti-human trafficking legislation in the state, spoke next.

She revealed that in 2003 Texas was one of the first states to pass anti-trafficking legislation and expressed confidence in the passage of additional anti-trafficking bills under consideration.

House Bill 1272, one of three bills Thompson is cosponsoring, would require the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force to work with three state agencies “to train medical and public school personnel and others to identify and assist victims of human trafficking.”

Thompson closed by urging attendees to help ensure that “the Emancipation Proclamation is an emancipation proclamation … not just for black slaves but for every person enslaved in the United States of America.”

Mandy Kimball, Children at Risk’s public policy and government affairs director, noted that it was fitting to hold this rally on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and urged attendees to recognize the continued need to “make it clear that people are not for sale.”

After remarks from two additional representatives, Jay Abernathy, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Palestine, concluded the conference. “Advocacy for trafficking has its roots in people called by God” to pursue justice, he said.

He referenced Jesus reading Isaiah’s call to offer “freedom to prisoners” and “to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18-19), Moses demanding that Pharaoh free the Hebrew slaves, William Wilberforce working to end the African slave trade, and Abraham Lincoln abolishing slavery in the U.S.

The event, attended by around 100 people, was spearheaded by Children at Risk and cosponsored by 10 additional nonprofits focused on ending human trafficking, as well as the Christian Life Commission (CLC) of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

An information session was held earlier that morning at First Baptist Church of Austin, located a few blocks from the state capitol.

Gus Reyes, executive director of the Texas Baptists CLC, opened the information session noting that this event was focused on “getting justice done” for those without a voice.

Kathryn Freeman, the CLC’s director of public policy, then provided general information about human trafficking, anti-trafficking legislation currently under consideration in Texas, and best practices for discussing this issue with representatives.

The information session concluded with a panel discussion moderated by Freeman, featuring representatives from three anti-trafficking organizations: Tomi Glover of TraffickStop, Eliza Reock of Shared Hope International and Dixie Hairston of Children at Risk.

Reock noted that “the majority of individuals being trafficked [in the U.S.] are children” and are victims of sex trafficking.

Glover emphasized that “addressing the demand [for labor and sex slaves] is a big part of the prevention.”

Hairston stressed the need for “trauma-informed care and victim-informed approaches” to help trafficking victims recover from their experience.

A document provided by Children at Risk reported that “Texas accounts for almost 14 percent of all calls received by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, second only to California.”

Editor’s note: A photo news story covering the human trafficking information session and press conference is available here.

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