This story involves sensitive material that may upset some readers.

On Thursday Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will publicly announce the state’s new human trafficking unit, with Kirsta Melton at the helm. Melton has been working on human trafficking cases since 2009.

She says she’ll never forget her first case, which involved a 13-year-old girl.

“Her parents were divorced and her dad had been in and out of prison,” Melton says. “She sometimes went to school and sometimes she didn’t. On the particular day that she ended up first being trafficked, she had skipped school and she had gone to the corner store picked up a lady that she knew there. They went to a local drug house.”

There, Melton says, the girl bought some pot. At some point she needed to use the restroom. The two men who owned the house were members of a gang. The two, who were brothers in their late 40s, had inherited the house from their father.

“They locked that child up in the bathroom,” Melton says. “They got rid of the lady she came with. They dragged [the child] out to a room across the way where they had a bed and then they stripped her naked and they tied her with the yellow nylon ropes that people use to tie things to their car. And then they both raped her.”

The two men decided to keep the girl and sell her to anybody that had some extra cash left over after they bought drugs. They kept the child tied up and drugged for two weeks until she was rescued by a man from the neighborhood who was offered the same deal: extra cash for some time with the girl. The neighbor refused and ran her out of the house.

“I was the person who had the privilege of going after those two guys in court and standing up for that child,” Melton says. “I will never forget that case.”

Melton says it’s exciting to see the state tackling human trafficking.

“It creates an entire team tackling human trafficking from both the criminal side as well as the civil racketeering side,” Melton says. “It allows us to really blanket the state with human trafficking awareness, training for law enforcement, training for the judiciary, for all of the key players and agencies – both state and local – that are working on the issue.”

Melton says human trafficking is often confused with smuggling. But the two are not the same.

“The immigration issue and the issue of smuggling and illegal crossing of the border often becomes confused with the issue of human trafficking,” Melton says. “That’s one of the things we always like to distinguish.”

So why is this unit being formed now? Melton says it’s a hot issue.

“Sex trafficking is impacting kids,” she says. “It’s time for us as a community stand up and say ‘We’re not okay with people being for sale in the State of Texas. We’re not gonna stand for that any longer.’”

Another reason to form the unit is that the Department of Public Safety has indicated that human trafficking is an area cartels and gangs will be moving into.

“If you are a gang, and your goal is to make money to continue your enterprises, you can sell drugs, you can sell weapons, you can sell people,” Melton says. “It’s so much easier for you to hide a human trafficking organization with a couple of kids or an adult that you’re going to engage either in forced labor or in prostitution. No one can obviously see that the way they can see a kilo of cocaine.”

In a year’s time Melton hopes to show that the unit is working through two different factors:

“One will be the establishment of the team that is truly and fully dedicated to this issue,” she says. Two, I would like to be able to tell you that that team is generating cases. That we have expanded our training and covered thousands of more people in the state of Texas.”

If you, or someone you know is a victim of sex trafficking please contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center or your local law enforcement.

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