Victims or Offenders? Young Women and Sex Trafficking in Houston

If we refer to young women in Houston as sex trafficking victims, why are so many of them arrested and put in detention on prostitution charges?

 

One of Houston’s “worst kept secrets” is slowly becoming a known and accepted fact. Victim advocates say sex trafficking is a $99 billion a year industry. In the Lone Star State, a study from the University of Texas states 79,000 trafficked victims are minors. No matter how they got into “the life,” as so many call it, getting out is never easy. Read that full article here.

There are even services sprouting up, one titled the “Anti-Trafficking Alliance” (aka ATA.HTX) to find these young women and get them out of the grips of this life.

Many of these young women advertise their services on a cite called backpage.com. As of April 6, 2018, the website was seized by the federal government. You can read more about the charges against the founders here.

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said the seizure of the site was “an important step forward in the fight against human trafficking. This builds on the historic effort in Congress to reform the law that for too long has protected websites like Backpage from being held liable for enabling the sale of young women and children.”

With all of this positive change and reform surrounding sex trafficking, the question still remains: why arrest and charge these girls? If the men and women who force them to perform these services are only receiving probation: why arrest and charge these girls?

To their credit, Harris County has formed CARE court (formerly referred to as “girls court”) to help these types of girls. However, there are only limited spots and it is difficult to get accepted. The majority are left to the regular juvenile court. Many are kept in detention, or sent off to placement. Placement can help, as there are therapy and support groups. However, many girls run away to go back to “the life” for many reasons.

Some enjoy it, some like the money, some like the freedom, some trust these “groomers” more than their own family, some are just scared.

But why should they be punished because a “groomer” got to them at their most impressionable age? An age where they have trouble standing up against peer pressure? An age where they are both pleasure and thrill seeking? An age where they rebel against their parents? An age where they have no income of their own and might see this as an opportunity?

According to Fort Bend Co. Pct. 3 Constable Wayne Thompson, groomers “lure young people into these environments and start them off by gaining their friendship and then introducing them to alcohol and drugs. The next thing you know, you end up in a different city and you don’t know where you’re at or how to get away.”

As recently as February 20, 2018, there was an article about Houston entitled, “How to protect your child from sex trafficking predators in the suburbs.” Read all about it here.

If the majority of the reporting on all of this talks about this young women as victims, why are we still arresting them? Hopefully, the shutting down of backpage.com is a step in the right direction.

If you yourself have been a victim of sex trafficking or know anyone who needs help: here are some local (Harris County) resources.

Anti-Trafficking Alliance HTX specializes in investigations to locate and recover trafficking victim. You can contact them at 713-714-6612.

Rescue Houston, a 24/7 hotline for victims in Houston. You can contact them at 713-322-8000.

Elijah Rising, a Houston-based group working to combat sex trafficking through prayer, awareness, intervention and aftercare.

Weekly Roundup

Utah Passes “Free-Range” Parenting Law – First of its Kind

After a New York mom allowed her 8-year-old son to ride the subway home alone, her story went viral with people calling her “America’s Worst Mom.” But now, the Utah state legislature is using her story as a basis for a new law.

The measure, sponsored by Utah state Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R, exempts from the definition of child neglect various activities children can do without supervision, permitting “a child, whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm, to engage in independent activities . . .” Those activities include letting children “walk, run or bike to and from school, travel to commercial or recreational facilities, play outside and remain at home unattended.” The law does not say what the “sufficient age” is.

Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert, R, signed the bill into law earlier this month after it passed unanimously in both chambers of Utah’s legislature. Critics, of course, have argued that this style is not safest for children, despite the fact that stranger abduction is rare. This story begs the question, what implications will this have for state child-welfare authorities in Utah? Will other states follow suit? You can read more about this measure here and here.

Black Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High Speak Out

A mostly white group of Stoneman Douglas survivors started a movement after the shooting to honor the victims and rally Americans to stop gun violence. Last weekend, they took their fight for stricter gun control laws to Washington and other cities in what they called a March for Our Lives. Many citizens are lauding these young people for their achievements and bravery, but what about the African American students who attend the same school?

“I would say that our voices were not intentionally excluded, but they were not intentionally included,” said Kai Koerber, a junior. “Now more than ever, it is time to represent the diversity of our school, and the diversity in the world.” Kai is part of a group of students who feel that their Black peers were unable to muster the same kind of support as the mostly-white students have, dating all the way back to activism surrounding the Trayvon Martin death. About 11% of the high school’s 3,000 students are black.

The other students from Stoneman stand in solidarity with their African American peers, and hope that they can combine forces to shed light on Black Lives Matter in their fight. It is truly inspiring to see what these kids have accomplished in mere months, regardless of whether you agree with their point of view. You can read all about it here.

Study Finds Second-Born Brother More Likely to Get Involved in Criminal Justice System

A new study conducted at MIT found that second-born children are more likely to break the law. It looked at hundreds of sets of brothers and found that the younger counterparts were 20-40% more likely to get in trouble at school and enter the criminal justice system.

Those who conducted the study have a few theories as to why this may be the case. Parents often don’t dote on their second-born children as much as they do on their first-born. They tend to spend less one-on-one time with them and are often less enthusiastic about doing engaging activities like reading bedtime stories and playing games. Parents also tend to take less time off from work with a second-born child. As a result, second-born children may feel like they have to compete for their parents’ attention and may act out more. You can read more about the study here.

It will be interesting to see whether this study has any implications on the school-to-prison pipeline research already being conducted across the country. Why does “getting in trouble at school” have to immediately translate to “entering the criminal justice system”? Is this study biased in and of itself? Regardless, it is important for parents to think critically about how their parenting style may shift from child to child and how that will effect their children long term.

Five Teens Charged with Second-Degree Murder in Rock Throwing Incident

On October 24, 2017, five Michigan teenagers were denied bond after they were charged with second degree murder for throwing rocks off of a highway overpass and killing a passenger in a van. That passenger, Kenneth White, was a 32 year-old fiancé and father to a 5 year-old son. You can read more information about Kenneth White here and donate to the family’s GoFundMe page here.

Genesee County officials believe that Kyle Anger, the eldest of the group at 17, was the one who threw the fatal rock. Even so, all of the boys are being tried as adults and charged with second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and malicious destruction of property. The maximum penalty is life in prison. Anger, Alexander Miller, Mark Sekelsky, Mikadyn Payne and Trevor Gray all were arraigned on the same day they were denied bond and pled not guilty. You can see pictures of all of the boys in court here.

Their probable cause hearing is scheduled for today, November 2, 2017. Many people in their community are rightfully upset and seeking justice for Kenneth White. Sheriff Robert Pickell stands by his assertion that this incident should be prosecuted to the fullest extent. Pickell said, “It’s second-degree murder. I don’t think anybody’s laughing. You make a bad decision, you could be spending the rest of your life in prison. This is not a prank.”

The rock in question weighed six pounds but investigators also found a rock weighing 20 pounds had been thrown by the boys. You can read more details about the incident here.

What no one in the media is talking about, however, is the flaws in the prosecution’s case as it relates to these boys. They certainly should be held accountable, but they lack the mens rea (or guilty mind) to be prosecuted under second-degree murder. There is an argument to be made that there was no malice or intent to kill White, as they did not know him and could not have intended for him to die.

Hopefully the defense attorneys for the boys will bring up adolescent development issues at their probable cause hearing today. As teenagers, these boys also lack the cognitive development to be tried as adults. Teenagers’ frontal lobes of their brains have not yet properly developed and as such they have poor decision-making skills. They are unable to see the long-term effects and consequences of their actions. Psychosocially, teenagers are impulsive and more likely to take risks. These boys clearly did not think through their actions when they threw this rocks off the overpass, and due to their development they should not be held accountable to the same standard as a similarly-situated adult.

Teen’s socio-emotional system is compromised as well which can mean that adolescents have more difficulty resisting peer pressure. The government in this case is choosing to see that as a conspiracy, but I would submit to you that it is merely teenage group-think. These boys should certainly be held accountable for their actions. But we need to take into account these psychological factors when prosecuting children and consider the big picture when discussing and reporting on these sensitive issues.

You can read about adolescent development and how it is transforming juvenile justice here.