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.

Molly Bagshaw

About Molly Bagshaw

Molly is a second-year law student at the University of Houston Law Center. Molly graduated from Princeton University in 2013 with a degree in sociology, African American studies, and spanish. Molly then served as a Teach for America corps member for two years in a Title One school in Fort Worth, Texas and spent the next year working for the San Francisco Public Defender's Office. Molly has worked for numerous lawyers and public defenders, and is committed to a career in indigent defense. She is excited to be spending this summer working at the Juvenile Public Defender in Travis County to pursue this goal in an environment that encompasses everything she is passionate about.

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