Bowie County is a county in Northeast Texas, located along the southern borders of Oklahoma and Arkansas. The county has a population of roughly 93,000 residents and is home to Texarkana, a city that exists in both Texas and Arkansas. The county seat is Boston, TX. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been pervasive issues in Bowie County since the in late 19th century, beginning with Texarkana’s “Red-Light District.” The district was in operation until the late 1950’s when Texarkana ministers sought a Bowie County grand jury to investigate and take police action towards the issue. However prostitution proved to remain an issue well after the indictment. For example, 24 brothels were allegedly still in operation in 1975. Among the more serious crimes associated with the city’s commercial sex market is child sex trafficking. For example, in August of 2020, two men were arrested and charged with online solicitation of a minor in Bowie County for allegedly attempting to offer a 15-year-old girl money for sex during an online reverse sting. According to reports, an agent with the Texas Department of Public Safety posed as a 15-year-old girl in an ad placed on a website known for sex trafficking and prostitution. Two men responded to the decoy ad, and both arranged to meet the undercover agent at a local convenience store. One of the offenders sent a picture of $75 when communicating with the undercover agent. The second offender allegedly sent the undercover agent a photo of himself and his vehicle, in addition to agreeing to pay the undercover agent $100 when communicating online. The offenders’ identities, images, ages, locations, and charges were released to local news sources.
To combat the issue, county and local agencies have adopted aggressive and comprehensive approaches to identify and apprehend sex buyers, such as reverse sting operations. The first known street-level reverse sting was conducted in 1987 as a result of citizen complaints regarding prostitution and the ancillary crimes it generates. In 2007, nine male sex buyers were arrested as the result of a street-level reverse sting conducted by Texarkana police, in which female officers posed as decoys. According to officials, the men were arrested after they offered money in exchange for sex.
In addition to reverse stings, police have also apprehended sex buyers as the result of other investigations or citizen reports to police. For example, in October, 2021, a DeKalb resident was arrested recently for two counts of felony solicitation of prostitution in Bowie County. He was arrested by agents with the Texas Department of Public Safety on the charges and released the following day after posting bonds totaling $20,000. According to a probable cause affidavit, he had come to the attention of members of the DPS criminal investigation division during a human trafficking investigation. He had allegedly paid women exploited in the sex trade with cash and digital money transfer applications such as Venmo. A woman identified in the affidavit as “Adult Victim #1” allegedly told investigators she became involved in prostitution after developing a drug addiction, and that the man paid for sex with her on multiple “dates.” Text messages and digital money transfer application records allegedly support the woman’s claims, showing the man negotiating price and type of sexual activity expected in lewd and explicit terms. Effective Sept. 1, 2021, individuals charged with solicitation in Texas face six months to two years in a state jail. Before that date the offense was a Class B misdemeanor. Individuals with a prior conviction for solicitation may now be charged with a third-degree felony and if the offense involves a minor, the punishment range increases. The change in the law is intended to deter human trafficking. Earlier in October, DPS arrested an Idabel, Oklahoma, man for felony solicitation in Texarkana, Texas.
Shaming and loss of employment are also consequences of buying sex in the county. Additional demand reduction tactics that have been deployed in the county are buyer arrests, employment loss, and shaming. For example, in August of 2017, a former Texarkana, TX, Independent School District security guard was charged with promoting prostitution in Bowie County. According to a probable cause affidavit, a 42-year-old man was accused of offering to pay a 14-year-old boy for sex. The victim’s mother went to the Texarkana, TX, Police Department to make a report July 26th, 2017, and described the exploiter as a family friend. Investigators arranged for the boy to be interviewed at the Texarkana Children’s Advocacy Center by a forensic interviewer. According to the affidavit, the offender’s alleged solicitation of the boy occurred on July 25th, 2017, in Texarkana, TX. The offender’s identity, image, age, location, and charge were included in reports from local news sources.
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Prostitution,” Texas State Historical Association.
- Grand Jury Probe Sought in Charge Of Prostitution (1957)
- 24 brothels remain open for business in Texarkana (1975)
- Nine Busted In Prostitution Sting (2007)
- From the Beginning There Were Brothels; Oldest Profession Has Deep Local Roots (2013)
Web-based Reverse Stings
- https://txktoday.com/news/arrests-made-in-online-sting/ (2020)
- https://www.texarkanagazette.com/news/2021/oct/16/prostitution-sting-in-bowie-county-highlights/ (2021)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- https://txktoday.com/crime/former-security-guard-pleads-guilty-to-promoting-prostitution/ (2018)
- http://www.texarkanagazette.com/texarkana/2019/jul/12/woman-indicted-sex-trafficking (2019)
Sex Buyer Arrests:
- https://www.texarkanagazette.com/news/2021/nov/04/dekalb-texas-man-arrested-for-solicitation-of/ (2021)