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Denton County sheriff creates human trafficking unit

Denton County sheriff creates human trafficking unit

Denton County sheriff creates human trafficking unit
March 04
10:30 2022

Content warning: this article contains language and content related to sexual assault and human trafficking. Reader discretion is advised.

Denton County Sheriff Tracy Murphree has announced the implementation of a trafficking task force to combat human trafficking in the area and the allocation of funds has been approved by the commissioners court.

The Denton County Human Trafficking Investigation Unit will begin with a sergeant and two investigators who will work towards the detection and investigation of human trafficking, according to a statement from Murphree in the Cross Timbers Gazette. The unit will receive training and coordinate with other local, state and federal agencies to detect, investigate and make arrests of those involved in the trafficking. 

At the Denton County Commissioners Court meeting on Jan. 25, Murphree officially announced the commencement of the unit and confirmed that it was funded during the last budgeting process. 

“I assure you that we are working on it We are getting where we need to be, it’s not anything that happens overnight,” Murphree said at the Jan. 25 meeting. “We’ve got some fantastic people [like] seasoned veteran investigators […] I will not accept anything but success with this unit.”

There are over 300,000 victims of human trafficking in Texas, including almost 79,000 youth victims of sex trafficking and nearly 234,000 adult victims of labor trafficking, according to a 2016 study by the University of Texas at Austin. 

Tarrant County, which includes the cities of Fort Worth and Arlington, developed a human trafficking unit in 2017. It has investigated over 130 tips and arrested over 400 individuals for human trafficking-related offenses, said Chief of Staff Jennifer Gabbert. 

The unit works in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies and victim service providers to build the unit’s investigative capacity and the invaluable partnerships needed to combat this heinous crime,” Gabbert said. “[The unit] was created with the mission to enhance our abilities to identify and recover victims of all forms of human trafficking, investigate and prosecute traffickers and sex buyers and ensure a wide array of services are available to help victims.”

Denton’s human trafficking unit will work alongside nearby units. It is important that members of teams from across the state know each other and know how to work together, Murphree said at the commissioners court meeting. 

“My team is in Tarrant County with the human trafficking unit on an operation and some things we will continue to do is a collaborative effort,” Murphree said. “Sex traffickers don’t recognize county lines, so it’s important we work hand in hand with our neighbors.”

Compared to other nearby counties, such as Tarrant, Denton has had a slower response to combating human trafficking. Abby Germer, executive director of Refuge for Women in Denton, said she is glad officials are showing up and educating themselves about the issue. 

“The interactions that I’ve had, not only with the city of Denton but also the Denton County sheriff’s office, have always been positive,” Germer said. “When they have reached out, we have worked with both of them and have helped place women in programs. I’m very excited that they’re adding a trafficking task force and I really think they’re going to set the bar high.” 

Megan Canfield, a political science and public relations junior,  serves as the president of the It’s On Us university chapter, an organization that creates a safe place for survivors of sexual assault, and said it is important for people to educate themselves and become aware of issues such as sexual assault and sex trafficking. 

“The biggest thing that one could do to help is to not be a bystander: if you see something, say something,” Canfield said. “I don’t think enough is being done on any level to stop issues such as sexual assault or sex trafficking. In a way, it has just been normalized as something that some women and men will have to experience, which is so wrong.”

Anybody who believes they are a victim of human trafficking or has information can call the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or Denton County Crime Stoppers at 1-800-388-TIPS. Resources in Denton can be accessed on the C7 Human Trafficking Coalition’s website at c7htc.org

Featured Image: Orange and purple lights shine on the Denton Courthouse on Feb. 28, 2021. Photo by Lindy Jenkins

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Jillian Nachtigal

Jillian Nachtigal

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