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Thomson Reuters Takes on Houston's Anti-Human Trafficking Digital Toolkits

The partnership with Houston enables continuation of large-scale work to disrupt human trafficking.

The Houston skyline.
The Houston Mayor’s Office of Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence has partnered with Thomson Reuters to take stewardship of and distribute the city’s digital anti-trafficking toolkits, with an eye to disrupt and end human trafficking.

Thomson Reuters launched the human trafficking resource center last week with these documents. The content and technology company has committed to keeping the freely available materials up to date for continued access.

The repository is a culmination of more than eight years’ work to infuse and document large-scale tactics throughout the city of Houston — face-to-face outreach, regulation, massive media campaigns, technology or online adjustments and raising awareness in industries where human trafficking happens.

“The Mayor’s Office of Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence, led by Minal Patel Davis, is the first municipal-level office of its kind in the United States focused on local policy-driven efforts against human trafficking and domestic violence,” reads last week’s news release. “Our office believes in reflective governance and works in collaboration with a broad array of stakeholders and public private partnerships to pursue additional avenues for economic security, gender equity dialogues, addressing service deserts and shifting cultural attitudes to end human trafficking and domestic violence.”

The work has been done “to scale,” matching Houston’s own: it is the fourth most populous city in the nation with 2.2 million residents, an energy capital, home of Port Houston and host of international events such as the Super Bowl and the upcoming World Cup.

Texas law sets forth that human trafficking happens when there is labor or sexual exploitation using “force, fraud or coercion, or where there is commercial sexual exploitation of a child,” which is someone aged 17 or under, according to the Texas Human Trafficking Initiative.

The city led the human trafficking office’s creation in 2015, said Heather C. Fischer, senior adviser for human rights crimes at Thomson Reuters. She has served as a White House human trafficking czar and has extensive experience working on state, national and international levels.

Fischer said the partnership will continue Houston’s tactical work in ensuring everyone has tools and knowledge to fight human trafficking. It is a body of work that dovetails with Thomson Reuters’ goal to share “data for good” in a public-private partnership to facilitate “deep work with government entities” on all levels. There are nine kits, three of which are posted now, and the others are “in flight.”

The campaigns are tested, replicable and customizable. They can be used by municipalities, nonprofits and other entities to raise awareness about human trafficking. Most can be done on a budget or through local partnerships; as an example, television ads would require funding or a media partner.

So far, three toolkits have been posted at Thomson Reuters:

  • Anti-luring social media awareness campaign toolkit: includes 24 plug-and-play social media posts targeted to youth ages 13-22 and caregivers ages 35-55 
  • Watch for Traffick media campaign toolkit:  guidance on how authorities can raise awareness through ready-made advertising for television, radio, billboards, buses and taxis 
  • Large-scale public events toolkit: Tool topics range from how to vet volunteers and engage various sectors including restaurants and transport companies to help spot victims  
Minal Patel Davis of Houston courtesy photo.jpg
Tracy L. Eason
Davis, the founding director of Houston’s office, said it was time to make sure these efforts were preserved, especially since Mayor Sylvester Turner will retire Jan. 2. Her office has served almost entirely under his watch and during this time, the city’s “whole of government” approach to human trafficking has been adopted by 18 cities across the United States and 11 international communities.

Davis told Industry Insider — Texas that she prefers “policy council” to “task force” to invoke a broader perspective. While the task force model is based on “law enforcement and to uphold the rule of law,” cities can incorporate ordinances, policy and practice to institutionalize response, raise awareness at scale, fill service gaps and replicate this work on national and international levels.

Tangible actions, outlined in strategic planning, have included:

  • Including human trafficking awareness in the health department’s online training
  • Reconfiguring the jail telephone system so inmates can call out to the national human trafficking hotline
  • The city engaging the taxi industry through email and text blasts in a past awareness campaign
  • Delivering human trafficking training in 17 languages to the 554 hotels the city regulates
“We are proud to continue the legacy of Mayor Turner where, under his leadership, the city of Houston became a model for mobilizing municipalities to counter human trafficking,” Fischer said in the news release. “We are committed to continuing to expand the ecosystem of information, technology and subject matter expertise we offer to support efforts to identify human trafficking networks, facilitate prosecution and help victims and survivors.”
Rae D. DeShong is a Dallas-based staff writer and has written for The Dallas Morning News and worked as a community college administrator.