March 20, 2018 - Legal and medical professionals recently gathered at the University of Houston Law Center to bring attention to the perils of human trafficking.
The event, "Human Trafficking Symposium: A Global and Local Perspective," was sponsored by the Health Law & Policy Institute and UNICEF, and was attended by community leaders, public health professionals, and county and city government officials.
A panel discussion featured three attorneys and a child psychologist, each of whom had their own unique focus on curbing human trafficking.
Noela Barasa, a child protection specialist with a focus on migration for UNICEF, said it is her mission to assist children who have been victims of violence.
"At the core of what we're talking about is greed, sexual predators and violence," Barasa said. "It is my goal to make sure children have equal access to protection, and to focus on enhancing law enforcement capabilities to address the trafficking of persons and smuggling of migrants."
Olsa Alikaj Cano, a senior attorney with Foster LLP, pointed out that victims of human trafficking without legal immigration status are often charged with crimes.
"A lot of times victims go through the criminal courts and don't get to tell their story -- they're criminalized and charged with misdemeanors," she said. "Unless a lawyer can find out exactly what has happened, there are a lot of obstacles and it is very difficult."
Julie Kaplow, a clinical child and adolescent psychologist at Texas Children's Hospital, said part of her job is to spread awareness among medical professionals about human trafficking and sex trafficking.
"One of the things that we've been asked to do recently is to tell pediatricians what they can look for," Kaplow said. "What we know about sex trafficking is many times these kids are receiving physical health care while they're being exploited.
"Some of the things that we talk about are if the child or adolescent is very hesitant to come into the room alone, or if it feels like the person they're with, especially if it's a male, is being very dominating and needing to be in the room with them. Those are some red flags."
Minal Patel Davis, a special advisor on human trafficking to Mayor Sylvester Turner and the City of Houston, was the final panelist. She is tasked with making a local impact on human trafficking in the fourth-largest city in the U.S. Patel Davis discussed how she is introducing a program that is the first of its kind to combat human trafficking.
"I developed and am currently implementing Mayor Turner's Anti-Human Trafficking Strategic Plan, which is the first comprehensive municipal response to human trafficking by a U.S. city," she said. "Our focus has mostly been local, but we are looking to help other cities in their own anti-human trafficking efforts."
The panel was moderated by Rachel Rose, the principal attorney at her own firm.
The symposium also included remarks from Nelson Bowman, UNICEF's managing director of the southwest region, a screening of the documentary "Not My Life" and a story from a woman who survived being trafficked.