County seeks grant to fight human trafficking

Combined $1.5M available for ECSO, Children’s Advocacy Center

Bill Spinks
Waxahachie Daily Light
The Ellis County Historic Courthouse.

Ellis County will be applying for a $750,000 federal grant to fight human trafficking in the county.

County commissioners recently gave their approval to seek the grant, which will provide funding from the U.S. Department of Justice over a three-year period that will allow the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office to stand up and implement a Human Trafficking Task Force.

In conjunction with the ECSO, the Ellis County Children’s Advocacy Center is also seeking a $750,000, three-year federal grant as the victim services provider. The funding for both agencies, if approved, would be available starting Oct. 1.

After the third year, another grant is available to continue and grow the task force for an additional three years, Sheriff Brad Norman said. Norman said the grant requires a 25-percent cash match from the county, but in-kind items such as office space, vehicles and computers that the county already possesses can count toward the match.

The grant also requires a cash match from the Ellis County Children’s Advocacy Center, but Leslie Deen, executive director of the agency, said the $62,500 match per year for her office can be raised through in-kind services as well as donations.

Deen shared a story of an Ellis County teenage girl who fell into the world of sex trafficking, and said if human trafficking awareness had been greater, this child’s outcome might have turned out differently.

“This case, for me personally, exposed our county’s lack of awareness of what trafficking is and how it affects trafficking victims,” Deen said. “It touched almost every system that we have in place to protect our kids.”

Ellis County’s location as part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area puts it in a hotspot for human trafficking, Deen said. Not only that, but two major interstate highways running through the county connect the county to other major hotspots.

The recent Operation Genesis, which dealt with online solicitation of minors, involved nine agencies and resulted in 16 felony arrests. County Attorney Ann Montgomery said it was everyone’s duty to protect children. “And they’re at risk,” she said.

Montgomery said the county’s sex trafficking committee is currently holding monthly meetings and she fully supports the establishment of a task force.

Deen said the grant will allow for law enforcement to have additional resources to proactively investigate and pursue human trafficking, as well as child pornography and online solicitation of minors. The grant will also bring needed resources to victims, she added.

Deen said the county’s approach to human trafficking must be victim-centered in order to handle these cases, including law enforcement, prosecutors and various services.

 “We need our response to be trauma-informed and also evidence-based, and a victim-centered approach by all the partners in order for it to work,” Deen said.