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Jeff Woo

A hard look at modern slavery

Profile image for By Julian Gill
By Julian Gill
A panel of experts — from left, Ashleigh Chapman, president of the Alliance for Freedom, Restoration and Justice; Suzy Gange, clinical director of Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County; Dennis Ozment, executive director of 4theONE Foundation; and John Kochan, special agent for Homeland Security — answer questions from the audience during the Denton County Human Trafficking Coalition Expo on Saturday at Serve Denton.Jeff Woo
A panel of experts — from left, Ashleigh Chapman, president of the Alliance for Freedom, Restoration and Justice; Suzy Gange, clinical director of Children’s Advocacy Center for Denton County; Dennis Ozment, executive director of 4theONE Foundation; and John Kochan, special agent for Homeland Security — answer questions from the audience during the Denton County Human Trafficking Coalition Expo on Saturday at Serve Denton.
Jeff Woo

Group’s message: Human trafficking happens here

Organizations that work to prevent human trafficking gathered under one roof Saturday to discuss the modern-day slave trade in Denton and surrounding communities.

The Denton County Human Trafficking Coalition, a group that started in 2015 to educate residents about the topic, invited local nonprofits, church ministries, law enforcement agencies and residents to the Serve Denton building for its first major event.

Coalition chairwoman Carrie Powell said bringing local experts and agencies together will help intertwine the existing services in Denton. But her group hosted the event primarily to acknowledge a problem experts say exists nationally as well as in our own backyard.

“I think that when we first got together, we just kind of educated ourselves on who’s out there,” Powell said. “And then once we saw all these organizations that are doing things but not coming under one roof and talking about it, it was kind of fighting against each other.”

Ashleigh Chapman, president and CEO of the Alliance for Freedom, Restoration and Justice, kicked off the event as the featured speaker. With an audience of close to 100 people, she explained the scope of an issue she said isn’t easily quantified.

“Depending on who you’re asking, that number might be between 15,000 and 25,000 souls who are being trafficked across our border into this nation for purposes of labor or sex trafficking,” she said, adding the total number of victims rises exponentially when it comes to domestic human trafficking cases.

Chapman said one of the most important ways to combat the issue, aside from simply acknowledging it happens locally, is to establish lines of communication between the local trafficking prevention agencies.

Those relationships could create a more efficient network of support groups, Chapman said.

“If you understand what needs to be done but not all the possibilities that are out there, then you’re going to struggle,” she said.

A panel discussion allowed residents to speak to other human trafficking experts, including John Kochan, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its North Texas Trafficking Task Force.

Kochan, who is based in Irving, said his agency works with local police departments and the Denton County Sheriff’s Office during human trafficking investigations here.

Hotels and motels generally are considered the main targets for such cases, he said. But getting a victim to open up is the most difficult part of the process.

“The hardest part of the investigation is — I think we would all agree — getting that young lady to first make the outcry,” Kochan said. “There are many reasons why they don’t: self-esteem, threats, fear.”

Although he considers sex and labor trafficking a problem in many communities across the country, Kochan said it’s an ugly subject nobody wants to talk about. But Powell said she thought Saturday’s event was a good first step in the right direction.

“We need recognition for what’s going on in Denton County,” Powell said.JULIAN GILL can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @juliangillmusic.