Story By: Emma Whalen

The Houston’s Mayor’s Office of Human Trafficking is expanding its scope to respond to rising domestic violence concerns, officials announced Sept. 14.

“We know there is a common thread among domestic abuse survivors and human trafficking survivors,” said Minal Patel Davis, director of the expanded office.

Since pandemic restrictions began, the Houston Area Women’s Center has experienced a 40% increase in calls for help, and municipal courts have seen as high as a 90% increase in requests, officials said.

The expanded role of the mayor’s office includes partnering with domestic violence support agencies throughout the city.

One of the first initiatives of the office is to connect survivors to a 30-day skills training program called Makr Collective, which helps survivors develop entrepreneurial skills and gain employment opportunities. The program, run by Magpies & Peacocks, a Houston-based sustainable fashion nonprofit, also teaches survivors sewing skills as a creative opportunity with therapeutic effects.

The survivors who join Makr Collective will also receive a cash match to any contributions they make to their savings, helping them work toward financial independence.

Domestic abuse and human trafficking survivors need an average of $700 to escape an abusive relationship, said Emily Whitehurst, the president of the Houston Area Women’s Shelter.

“Too often we call them victims, and we see them through the lens of their trauma and victimhood,” Whitehurst said. “This program sees them through the lens of their strength and potential.”

Patel Davis will take on the additional role of overseeing anti-domestic violence initiatives.

She led the effort to pass a recent city ordinance requiring all hotels and motels to train employees to spot the signs of human trafficking and post signage informing guests and staff how to contact anti-sex trafficking hotlines.

For more information or help, Houston residents can visit www.nocovidabuse.org to get a local list of resources.