Morgan Smith Reporter

Morgan Smith reports on politics and education for the Tribune, which she joined in November 2009. She writes about the effects of the state budget, school finance reform, accountability and testing in Texas public schools. Her political coverage has included congressional and legislative races, as well as Gov. Rick Perry's presidential campaign, which she followed to Iowa and New Hampshire. In 2013, she received a National Education Writers Association award for "Death of a District," a series on school closures. After earning a bachelor's degree in English from Wellesley College, she moved to Austin in 2008 to enter law school at the University of Texas. A San Antonio native, her work has also appeared in Slate, where she spent a year as an editorial intern in Washington D.C.

Recent Contributions

Solutions: What Texas can do to help child sex-trafficking victims

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Rep. Senfronia Thompson D-Houston and Sen. Joan Huffman R-Houston during a press conference on Jan 12, 2017.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Rep. Senfronia Thompson D-Houston and Sen. Joan Huffman R-Houston during a press conference on Jan 12, 2017.

Over the past week, we’ve exposed how Texas leaders who crusade against sex trafficking have done almost nothing to help child trafficking victims. We asked those closest to the issue how they would begin addressing the problem. Here's what they said.

She was a sex-trafficking victim, but Texas law labeled her a pimp

Yvette, 24, was convicted of trafficking a 16-year-old girl in 2015. She is serving a 23-year sentence at a prison in Gatesville, Texas.
Yvette, 24, was convicted of trafficking a 16-year-old girl in 2015. She is serving a 23-year sentence at a prison in Gatesville, Texas.

Laws the state uses to put sex traffickers behind bars can sweep up their prey, too. A few years in age can mean the difference between a chance at rehabilitation and a lengthy prison sentence, as Yvette learned.

Texas couldn’t help this sex-trafficked teen, so authorities sent her to jail

17-year-old Lena waits to be released from the Harris County Jail, with a small bag of her possessions. Her mentor gave her a blue jumpsuit to wear over her skimpy clothes.
17-year-old Lena waits to be released from the Harris County Jail, with a small bag of her possessions. Her mentor gave her a blue jumpsuit to wear over her skimpy clothes.

No one wanted Lena behind bars. She was not a prostitute; she was a child who had been sexually exploited. But teenage sex-trafficking victims in Texas end up in jail for one simple reason: There's nowhere else for them to go.

When foster care couldn't help this 16-year-old, she ran to a pimp

Jean, pictured in her mother’s home in East Texas, was one of the roughly 12,000 Texas kids in long-term foster care when she ran away and was taken in by a Dallas pimp.
Jean, pictured in her mother’s home in East Texas, was one of the roughly 12,000 Texas kids in long-term foster care when she ran away and was taken in by a Dallas pimp.

After her father raped her, Jean became one of the roughly 12,000 Texas kids in long-term foster care, a system that often leaves children more damaged than when they arrive. For Jean, selling sex seemed like a safer bet.

How hollow rhetoric and a broken child welfare system feed Texas' sex-trafficking underworld

Pimps send their victims to "walk the track" on a stretch of Bissonnet Street in Houston. Anti-trafficking efforts in Texas have focused more on putting pimps in prison than rehabilitating their prey.
Pimps send their victims to "walk the track" on a stretch of Bissonnet Street in Houston. Anti-trafficking efforts in Texas have focused more on putting pimps in prison than rehabilitating their prey.

Texas leaders have publicly battled sex trafficking for more than a decade, but they’ve devoted hardly any resources to helping victims.

In their own words: How Texas pimps recruit and sell girls for sex

The shoes of a convicted pimp who is serving out his sentence in a Texas prison. Pimps say they use fear and shame to control their victims.
The shoes of a convicted pimp who is serving out his sentence in a Texas prison. Pimps say they use fear and shame to control their victims.

Texas Tribune reporters talked to three convicted traffickers to try to understand the power they wield over victims and the attraction of what they call "the lifestyle." Here they are in their own words. 

Help us report on sex trafficking in Texas

Women "walk the track" on a stretch of Bissonnet Street in Houston. Pimps gather nearby in fast food and strip mall parking lots as potential johns circle and standard traffic passes through.
Women "walk the track" on a stretch of Bissonnet Street in Houston. Pimps gather nearby in fast food and strip mall parking lots as potential johns circle and standard traffic passes through.

Over the past five months, The Texas Tribune has investigated the hidden world of sex trafficking. Now, we want to hear about your experiences.

Timeline: Attorney General Ken Paxton's Legal Saga

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is shown at a news conference in Austin on Jan. 13, 2016, to announce a new unit of the attorney general’s office dedicated to combating human trafficking.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is shown at a news conference in Austin on Jan. 13, 2016, to announce a new unit of the attorney general’s office dedicated to combating human trafficking.

This week, a judge scheduled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s trial on criminal securities fraud for May 1. Use this timeline to to keep up with the legal and political drama.