Agencies join forces to address child sex trafficking

Waxahachie, TX - In 2020, the Ellis County Children’s Advocacy Center learned of five youth in the county that had been victims of commercial sex trafficking. Authorities say it will take a collaborative effort to combat this growing crime, and Tuesday that partnership became official.

Representatives from the advocacy center, local law enforcement agencies, District Attorney Ann Montgomery and a representative from the Texas governor’s office joined to sign a memorandum of understanding that outlines how various agencies will work together to investigate and prosecute these crimes.

The advocacy center is a key component to this partnership.

“We started recognizing that we were seeing a trend of trafficking victims,” said Leslie Deen, advocacy center executive director. “And we knew that we were not doing all that they needed us to do. So, we went on a journey to find out what in Texas is happening that we could do better.”

That search led to the governor’s office, which has worked with advocacy centers across the state that are dealing with child sex trafficking.

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Ellis County District Attorney Ann Montgomery signs a memorandum of understanding Tuesday at the Ellis County Children's Advocacy Center, chris ROARK/DAILY LIGHT

“The governor’s office has placed an emphasis on sex trafficking, and their office is a resource so that we can have a plan in place,” Montgomery said. “We have a few of these cases in the county. They can be difficult to identify, but going forward we have a way to handle this, and we’ll know who to call first.”

Tomi Grover, North Texas regional administrator for the child sex trafficking team of the governor’s office, said Ellis County is not immune to child sex trafficking crimes.

“The proximity of Ellis County to Dallas County and the infrastructure around it puts Ellis County in the crosshairs,” Grover said, noting the Interstate 35E, I-45 and US 287 corridor. “This is easy recruiting grounds, and this is easy transit grounds.”

Grover credited the Ellis County Children’s Advocacy Center for taking the first step in addressing the issue.

“The recognized that the children here are at high risk and that they needed more attention,” Grover said.

Deen reached out to Montgomery in January to discuss ways to address the issue.

Within days the process began with the first of three summits with members of the community to delve into the issue. Deen said there were 116 community members who attended the first summit.

“It was to understand what the problem is,” Deen said. “Understand that yes it’s in Ellis County. And there are things we can do to solve this problem.”

Deen said two of the key takeaways from the community meetings were the need to recognize the victims and to protect the victims.

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From left, Tomi Grover, Leslie Deen and Ann Montgomery discuss the partnership between the office of the governor and several Ellis County agencies to help address child sex trafficking. CHRIS ROARK/DAILY LIGHT

In April, direct responders and service providers, including law enforcement, prosecutors, CASA of Ellis County, the advocacy center, and others, formed work groups to establish the protocols the county will take when officials become aware of a child sex trafficking victim.

“This allows us to collaborate better,” Sheriff Brad Norman said. “We’ll all go through training through the governor’s office for this type of situation.”

As part of the joint effort there will be a case coordinator and a 24-hour call service created to report these types of crimes. A partnership will be established with Traffick911, a nonprofit organization that builds relationships with youth to help free them from sex trafficking.

The work groups also resulted in the donation of a billboard to the Waxahachie Police Department with a childhood trafficking message. Also, the DA’s office will provide training to local law enforcement, and the advocacy center will provide training to educators and medical professionals.

“It’s going to take a team community effort to educate our community,” Deen said.

Looking ahead, Norman said the sheriff’s office and the advocacy center applied for a grant that would allow the creation of a trafficking task force. If approved, each of the two entities would receive $750,000 over the next three years.

“This is just one piece of the pie to help us be able to investigate these offenses,” Norman said. Montgomery said her team will begin other partnerships to educate the public about the signs of sex trafficking and what people can do if they believe someone is being trafficked.

“We’re next to these metropolitan counties, so this is going to be happening more and more,” Montgomery said. “This partnership is great because it gives us a plan and protocols going forward on how to help the victims.”

Grover said the governor’s office will stay in contact with the county to make sure the plan is working and that it has the resources it needs.

“The rest of the story has yet to be written,” Grover said. “You guys have laid the ground to make sure we have a good start on how we will work on these cases into the future.”

Source: Waxahachie Daily Light