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.

Where Is the Justice for Juvenile Sexual Assault Victims?

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Approximately 44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18.  Further, 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police, and 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.  After reviewing a couple recent cases, it is easy to see why sexual assaults are not routinely reported to the police.

For example, a Texas high-school senior, Rachel Bradshaw-Bean, was allegedly raped in a band room and after reporting the incident to her band director and principal, was forced to leave her school and attend a disciplinary school with the alleged rapist.  After an initial investigation including a medical evaluation which found Rachel had lacerations consistent with rape, the school determined the claims could not be substantiated, charged the young woman with “public lewdness,” and placed her in disciplinary alternative education program alongside her alleged attacker.  Removing Rachel from her high school and placing her in disciplinary school jeopardized her chances of graduating on time, and placed her in the same school, and possibly the same classes, as her alleged attacker.  Fortunately, the American Civil Liberties Union and their Texas affiliate began assisting Rachel and her family.

Sandra Park, a senior attorney with the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union explained that a series of mistakes occurred.  First, when Rachel reported the sexual assault to the band director immediately after the incident, he told her to work it out with the perpetrator, which is not what a rape victim should have to do.  Next, after reporting the incident to the principal, the principal appropriately reported the sexual assault to law enforcement, but the school prematurely ended its investigation.  Similarly, the police quickly closed its case after investigating only one day and charged Rachel with public lewdness, which is questionable because a rape kit supported her story.  Lastly, the school disciplined Rachel and sent her to an alternative education program, which Park describes as “a serious flaw and mistake by the school.”

Subsequently, the ACLU worked to get Rachel transferred back into a regular high school so she could graduate on time, and filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights at the federal Department of Education alleging the school had violated Title IX, the federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in education.  In the summer of 2012, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights ruled that Rachel’s Title IX rights had been violated.  In regard to sexual assaults on school campuses, Sandra Park stated, “[I]t’s vitally important that school administrators and police really understand their obligations to respond to the violence and not turn around and penalize the victim like they did in Rachel’s case.”

Although Rachel’s case ended positively, the Rusk County District Attorney Michael Jimerson stated that in Rachel’s interview with the forensic specialist, she had used language that “implied consensual sex instead of forcible rape.”  Likewise, a case in Louisiana last year alleged that an incarcerated 14-year-old consented to be raped by a corrections officer.  In that case, a Louisiana parish stated it should not liable for the rape of a 14-year-old girl in a juvenile detention center because the victim “consented” to be sexually assaulted by a 40-year-old guard at the facility.  It was argued that the guard could not have sexual relations with the victim inside the detention center without cooperation from her because the guard did not use force, violence, or intimidation when engaging in sexual relations.

Carolyn McNabb, an Louisiana attorney and child advocate, criticized the parish’s victim-blaming in a letter to parish attorneys:  “To say that a 14-year-old mentally and emotionally distressed girl with a history of having been abused and neglected as a child should be found at fault for consenting to be raped by a male guard while in confinement at the hands of my local government, which is charged with the responsibility of keeping her safe, not only sets the cause of children’s advocacy back a hundred years, but I believe the parish government commits ‘documentary’ sexual assault against the child by taking this position in a public record.”  Additionally, Marci Hamilton, a nationally recognized sex crime victim advocate and professor at Benjamin Cardozo Law School in New York, (and former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor), criticized the parish’s argument stating, “The defense has no basis in law.”  Further, “She is a victim of statutory rape.  The age of consent in Louisiana is 17.  The defense is also offensive to sex assault victims everywhere.”

The guard, Angelo Vickers, finally pled guilty to molestation of a juvenile and is serving a 7-year sentence.  Although the Texas and Louisiana victims were able to find some justice through the courts, too often victims of sexual assault are blamed and/or face retaliation for reporting the crime.  Further, rapists are often punished minimally or not at all.  On college campuses, young males have been found guilty of violating the sexual assault policies, but are only forced to undergo counseling or issued a no-contact order, which may still allow them to be in the same classes as their victim.  Moreover, a 2005 Department of Justice study found that only 56% of prison employees who were clearly caught sexually abusing inmates were referred for prosecution, and many are released on low bonds or given negligible sentences on the grounds that their victims were in prison.  Which leave one to wonder if there is any justice for juvenile sexual assault victims.  We would like to hear your opinions on this issue; please post your thoughts below.

 

For more information:

http://m.democracynow.org/stories/14120

www.salon.com/2013/08/07/louisiana_parish_claims_incarcerated_14_year_old_consented_to_be_raped_by_her_corrections_officer

http://www.opposingviews.com/i/society/crime/lawyers-want-louisiana-court-consider-14-year-old-consented-rape#

 

Photo Credit: sakhorn via Shutterstock

The Double Standards of Slut-Shaming

So, imagine you’re a teenage boy. You’re at a concert. A really drunk girl has been flirting with you for a few minutes. All of a sudden, she offers to perform oral sex on you. Right there. In the middle of the concert. You happily accept. While she is pleasuring you, you put your hands up in the air, cheering for your lucky, lucky self. You are the epitome of “cool.” 

Now – imagine you’re a 17-year-old girl. You are at your favorite singer’s concert. You have had way too much to drink and you’re incredible intoxicated. You see a really cute guy standing nearby. You approach him and begin flirting with him. You really want him to like you, so in your drunken stupor, you offer oral sex to him. He enthusiastically says, “YES!” and so, you kneel down, unbutton his pants, and begin. You are a total slut. 

My question is – why is there such a discrepancy in the way society views both people in this scenario? Both teenagers are engaged in explicit sexual activity in public, but somehow, most people would view the girl in a more negative light than they would the boy. This picture I have painted is basically exactly what happened at an Eminem concert at Slane Castle in Ireland last month. The photographs went viral and were all over social media. Needless to say, the story got a lot of people talking. Some people were rightfully upset about the fact that these pictures were similar to (if not exactly) child pornography. More importantly to this discussion, however, is the multitude of comments made about the young girl. One tweet said, “Lesson to be learnt from #slanegirl dont give head in public ..twice ..with 80,000 people watching” [sic]. While I agree – that is great advice – my problem is the lack of similar commentary concerning the boy’s behavior. How about, “Lesson I learned from #slaneboy: Don’t take advantage of an obviously drunk girl”?

The problem is that this type of hypocrisy isn’t rare. Remember Miley’s twerking incident a few weeks ago? The entire world is upset about Miley setting a bad example to young girls (which, don’t get me wrong – I agree, she did), but what about Robin Thicke sending a terrible example to males of all generations? He’s married and yet, he finds it somehow appropriate to allow a young woman to grind on him (which he admitted that he had prior knowledge of) and sing a song that has rape-y lyrics about “blurred lines.” While Robin Thicke did, admittedly, get criticized for his performance, I think most would agree that his reputation is not permanently destroyed the way Miley Cyrus’ is.

All of this relates to a concept in feminist philosophy called, “slut-shaming.” Basically, this term refers to making women feel guilty or inferior for certain sexual behaviors or desires that deviate from traditional gender expectations. Slut-shaming is the phenomenon that exists when women are “sluts” when they dress provocatively, request birth control, or have premarital sex – but men are not judged in the same manner for behaving in a way that indicates they desire sex, or when they buy condoms or have premarital sex.

I’d like to know what the readers think – why is there this discrepancy in the way we view sexuality in women and men? And what can we do to fix this problem?