Anti-Trafficking Efforts Pick Up Speed

In the four Internet stings conducted by Waco Detective Joseph Scaramucci and his team since Oct. 2014, 93 people have been arrested trying to purchase sex from children as young as 2 years old.

Pictures, badges and certificates from Scaramucci’s six years in the Marines decorate the walls of his office in the bowels of the McLennan County sheriff’s office. After serving time as a patrol and investigative officer, he moved on to his work as a detective of crimes against any persons ­— not just victims of sex trafficking.

While Scaramucci and his team target the buyers and solicitors, or “Johns” and “pimps,” they sometimes detain women for their own protection. When a woman is taken into custody, they are turned over to the Waco-based international organization UnBound.

UnBound, which organized an event at Antioch Community Church on Feb. 12 to raise awareness about sex trafficking, advocates for victims of the industry.

“UnBound does all the legwork for us,” Scaramucci said, referring to the work they do with the victims.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who spoke at the UnBound event at Antioch, recently authored the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. The bill imposes a $5,000 fine on anyone convicted of buying or selling sex, such as the offenders Scaramucci and his team arrested. The funds are then used as grants to states and organizations to combat sex trafficking.

SHE (Safe House and Empowerment) Is Freedom, a new Waco-based nonprofit, would be one of those organizations to receive a grant. The organization is currently raising money to open up a 15-bed safe house for minors in the industry. The safehouse will serve as a rehabilitation center, as well as protection from the girls’ previous pimps.

But it’s not that simple. The stress the girls are subjected to causes a psychological disorder called trauma bonding, which is associated with PTSD. This means they do not always want to leave their pimp.

“That’s what’s so hard,” said Elizabeth Tews, executive director of SHE Is Freedom. “It’s not something that I can force [the girls] to be happy.”

But once they are in the safehouse, Tews and her staff will be able to educate them and get them into the workforce.

“It’s kind of like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: If you don’t have a safe place to be, you can’t work on anything else,” Tews said.

SHE Is Freedom will offer GED programs, as well as connections with McLennan Community College and their available scholarships. The state also subsidizes education for any foster child, which is often the case with trafficked girls.

In order to eradicate the need for such subsidization, both Scaramucci and Tews agree the best tactic is to target the pimps.

“The Johns are easy, but there is always another one,” Tews said.

By targeting the pimps, the hope is that the effect will spread to other counties.

While Tews searches for funding, Scaramucci plans with his team how to make trafficking in Waco obsolete, even if that means one John at a time.