How Houston Is Leading The Fight Against Human Trafficking

City officials are sharing what they’ve learned with officials from around the world.

Officials from Afghanistan, Italy and Latvia are in town this week to learn how Houston is fighting human trafficking.

In 2015, Houston became the first city in the nation to create a department focused solely on human trafficking. This week, officials from Afghanistan, Italy, North Macedonia and Latvia are in town to bring Houston’s approach back to their countries. 

Minal Patel Davis, Houston’s Special Advisor to the Mayor on human trafficking, said Houston developed a unique approach that uses various city departments, not just law enforcement. 

Patel Davis said one key collaboration is with the city’s public health department. 

“We’ve instituted screenings with the coalition for homeless. We’ve instituted soft screenings at our county hospital through a human trafficking psychology fellow that we placed there through grant funding,” she said. “And we also have our own health department that screens in their community clinics if red flags arise.”

In 2017, the city began implementing a new requirement with contractors to ensure taxpayer dollars don’t go to businesses that have knowledge of or contribute to human trafficking. 

“It was designed to change behavior among vendors that the city has leverage with, where nonprofits and other advocates in the trafficking field won’t,” Davis said. “So we are able to push the envelope with corporations that others may not have access to.”

Earlier this year, officials from 18 U.S. cities convened to share best practices and learn about Houston’s strategies.

“After four years of work, we decided to take formal steps to share our work for replication efforts across the country,” Patel Davis said.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said it’s a successful example other places can use.

“We hope that participants recognize all of the opportunity that exists to address trafficking through the government systems,” Turner said.