AMARILLO, TEXAS (KVII) — The Amarillo Police Department announced Tuesday the arrests of 27 people after an operation focusing on sex work and human trafficking. A new update to state law could make the punishment for crimes like this even harsher.
Amarillo Police Department Sergeant Carla Burr said sadly this is nothing new in the United States, Texas, even here in the Texas Panhandle.
"Texas leads the nation unfortunately in human trafficking and with us having two major interstates that go right through Amarillo, and then the accessibility of that online. We just try to do the best we can to make a dent in our area," Burr said.
Starting on Sept. 1, penalties for solicitation of prostitution will be more significant in Texas, Increasing from a Class B misdemeanor to a State Jail Felony.
"The reason that they are doing this is because we are all becoming more educated and are learning about this, and we discovered that a lot of these women and men and children are being trafficked and the people that are continuing to perpetuate that by taking advantage of them, they should be held to a higher standard," Burr said.
Sergeant Burr said in operations like this one, agents interview all arrestees to look for human trafficking victims – because not everyone arrested is doing this of their own free will.
"They were forced into it, or coerced into it, or threatened into it, or however they ended up into it and they don’t know how to get out," said Burr. "So, we are trying to help them get out of it, give them services that are offered here in our community and see if they know other people that we haven’t identified."
Organizations offering assistance include Family Supports Services of Amarillo and No Boundaries Amarillo.