NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – This legislative session Texas lawmakers have committed millions of dollars toward fighting human trafficking and helping victims.

Governor Abbott announced Tuesday $18 million in grant funding will go toward efforts to prevent it; Dallas County will receive $232,261 and Tarrant County will receive $164,057.

Abbott launched an initiative to combat human trafficking and sexual misconduct almost a year ago that created a child sex trafficking team comprised of The Department of Family and Protective Services, law enforcement, medical providers, mental health providers and other non-profit organizations.

“Before it was everyone working for themselves,” Matthew Gilbert, Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center’s Chief Partner Relations Officer, said. “We have really been able to bring all of those partners in and ensure that info is shared correctly and ensure that these children are guided through the services they need.”

So far locally, the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center reports they were able to guide more than 100 child victims of sex abuse through their cases and put them in touch with resources they need.

A little girl protects herself with her palm. National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888 (photo credit: Getty Images)

Gilbert said before the initiative was launched, child sex trafficking victims were looked at differently.

“Prior to the initiative, one of the things we noticed was that these cases were treated much differently,” Gilbert said. “Law enforcement would treat these victims as prostitutes and because of some changes in some laws and because of this initiative, we’ve been able to bring these cases in house and help our partners understand that these children are victims and they’re children and they’re victims of child abuse. That’s why DCAC plays such a critical role in these cases.”

Volunteers with New Friends, New Life, an organization working to restore the lives of trafficked girls, said the new initiative also funded their new
Youth Resource Center. At the center, victims can receive counseling, life skills development, educational assistance and therapy.

“This is where the opportunity starts,” volunteer Annette Bailey told CBS 11 News. “It’s about building up the character of that person and giving them that opportunity to say that there is hope because hope is possible.”

The organization sent the following statement: “New Friends New Life is proud to be in partnership with the Governor’s office in combating sex trafficking in Texas, specifically through the opening of our Youth Resource Center, which has served 100 teens and youth over the past year. The Governor’s newly announced $18 million grant will further protect children, investigate and prosecute traffickers, rescue victims and help survivors heal all across our state. We look forward to our continued work with Governor’s office to help New Friends New Life restore and empower formerly trafficked girls and sexually exploited women and children.” – Kim Robinson, CEO, New Friends New Life.

Moving forward, all of the advocacy groups interviewed said they will continue fighting for increased prosecution and stiffer penalties for child abusers.

Also, they want to see more resources put toward educating the public on how to identify signs of child sex trafficking and how to report them.