Austin, TX

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Shaming
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Letters
Cameras
Web stings
License suspension

Austin is a city of roughly 993,129 residents, situated in central Texas’ Travis County. Cases of sex trafficking– involving both adult and minor victims– have been investigated in the city, and prostitution has been identified as a longstanding problem for certain neighborhoods. Prostitution-related homicides have also been documented locally.

Among their efforts to reduce the size and scope of the city’s commercial sex market, the Austin Police Department has conducted reverse stings targeting sex buyers since at least 1985. That year, several reverse stings produced the arrests of 40 johns over a week-long period. Numerous reverse stings have been conducted over the subsequent 25+ years; at times, undercover officers have utilized cameras during sting operations to document evidence of solicitation. Since at least 1994, arrested sex buyers have had their names publicized in press. The city has considered using SOAP orders for both buyers and sellers of sex, but has not implemented them to our knowledge.

In June 2014, media outlets reported that at least one john had been arrested as part of a web-based reverse sting in Austin. According to reports, “the Austin Police Department posted an online advertisement in the escort section of a website used to solicit prostitution services.” The john responded to the listing and arranged to meet an undercover female officer at a north Austin hotel and pay her $60 for sex. When he arrived at the location, he was promptly arrested. The man’s name, profession, and mugshot were released to the public.

In October 2018, police arrested three men for allegedly trying to have paid sex with underage girls.  Special agents posed as minors on the websites CityXGuide, MeetMe and Plenty of Fish. The three men were arrested after showing up at area motels along Interstate 35 to have sex with girls in exchange for money.

In May 2019, Travis County sheriff’s deputies and state troopers arrested at least six during a prostitution sting at a North Austin hotel targeting men trying to have sex with male and female minors. The Texas Department of Public Safety and the Travis County sheriff’s office launched the sting May 16-17 at a hotel on Koenig Lane near Interstate 35 and U.S. 290. Law enforcement officers created accounts on a website known to be a hub for prostitution. They connected with several men who agreed to come to the hotel for sex with a 15-year-old girl for prices ranging from $30 to $75. After investigators communicated with the men online, they waited for them to show up to the hotel and approach a room that had been agreed upon, and then officers moved in to arrest them.  All six men were charged with second-degree felony prostitution, punishable by two to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. One man admitted texting a 15-year-old for sex but that the teenager was actually an undercover officer, and had voluntarily written a letter apologizing to the fictional teen’s father.

In December 2016, Travis County commissioners voted to start a “John School” program aimed at educating men arrested for paying for sex. The John School program would be another option for first-time offenders arrested for the crime to avoid jail time. The program is comprised of an eight hour class that costs $250. Those funds are slated to go toward helping victims of prostitution. The school is not open to people who commit crimes involving minors. County staff project that the fees should cover the costs of the classes. The fees should also generate money for the Phoenix Court, a program designed for survivors of commercial sexual exploitation.

 

Key Partners

  • Austin Police Department
  • FBI

Key Sources

State Texas
Type City
Population 993129
Location
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