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

Minors Charged as Adults Sue County for Placing Them in Solitary Confinement

In King County, Washington, four minors who were charged as adults and were placed in solitary confinement are suing the county. The county has a practice of placing youths in isolation before their trial dates. Among other things, the lawsuit alleges “King County regularly confines children incarcerated at the RJC [Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent] alone in miniscule, barren cells for 23 or 24 hours a day in a unit dedicated to isolating children…[and] King County holds children in these isolation cells for weeks or months on end.” Read more here.

Opioid Orphans

The current opioid crisis is leading to “a generation of children…being neglected, abandoned or orphaned by parents addicted to opioids.” Grandparents, then, are often called on to take the place of the parents. Here is one of their stories.

Schools Start to Reopen in Puerto Rico after Maria, But Many Remain Closed

Some children are able to head back to school in Puerto Rico, but many others may have to wait for months to return to school. Read here for more.

 

“Raise the Age” Legislation Denied in Texas

Inmates wait to enter their dormatory at The Marlin Orientation and Assessment Unit, a Texas Youth Commission facility in Marlin, Texas on Friday , March16, 2007.

High-profile legislation to raise the age for criminal responsibility in Texas from 17 to 18 was declared dead in the Senate in early May, as leaders rejected House overtures to pass the bill but delay its implementation until 2021.

Senate leaders said the estimated $35 million cost to implement the change and concerns that putting perhaps thousands of additional youths into the state’s already overburdened juvenile system led them to opt instead for a two-year study as a prelude to enacting the change when the Legislature returns in 2019.

“The concept has merit, but the votes are not there on the Senate floor to do it this year,” said Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and longtime chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. “With all due respect to the House, their proposal did not have any funding in the budget they passed, and there was no plan on how to change the juvenile system to successfully accommodate the additional population of 17-year-olds.”

Texas’ age of adult responsibility has been at 17 since 1913. Texas is one of five states that treats 17-year-olds as adults in criminal cases, with New York having recently raised its age from 16 to 18. A dozen states have left that list in the past 10 years, and statistics show that many of them either overestimated the costs of raising the age or ended up paying nothing for the policy change.

Juvenile justice advocates of the change have said treating 17-year-olds as juveniles makes sense because their rehabilitation needs are similar to 16-year-olds in the juvenile justice system; the move would keep them safe from exploitation by older prisoners; and the likelihood they won’t re-offend would increase. It seems as though those advocates will have to wait until the study is complete and the House can come up with the money to make this proposed action a reality.

You can read the rest of the article here.