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Brownsville is a city of about 182,300 residents located at the southernmost tip of Texas’ Cameron County, near Harlingen and McAllen and directly across the border from Matamoros, Mexico. Prostitution and sex trafficking have posed persistent and visible problems in the community for at least two decades, and have generated complaints to police. Among the more serious issues associated with the city’s commercial sex market are child sex trafficking and international sex trafficking between U.S. and Mexico. For example, in May 2015, for example, an adult male sex trafficker was arrested during a Brownsville Police Department-led investigation at a motel for sex trafficking a 16-year-old girl he had met online and “convinced to sell drugs and begin prostituting.” Three additional men were also arrested during the operation; although some media outlets described the offenders as having “solicited” the victim for acts of prostitution, each was ultimately charged with sexual assault of a child. The details of the investigation were not disclosed. All of the men’s names, ages, professions, and mugshots were released to the public. The BPD was assisted in its efforts by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Professional Responsibility, Homeland Security Investigation Brownsville detectives, and the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force.
To combat the issue, county and local agencies have adopted aggressive and comprehensive approaches to identify and apprehend sex buyers such as, street-level and web-based reverse stings. Brownsville Police Department officers have conducted street-level reverse stings since at least 1995, if not earlier. Such operations have utilized female undercover officers and police informants as decoy sex sellers. During the stings, the decoys may stroll areas known for prostitution activity. When individuals approach the decoy and make an offer of money for sex, they are arrested by a BPD backup team. Law enforcement have also released the names and other identifying information about arrested sex buyers since at least 1995. For example, in 2010, the BPD arrested 12 male sex buyers during a street-level reverse sting operation. The identities and images of arrested sex buyers were included in reports by local news sources.
Some sex buyer arrests have been the product of investigating crimes against real victims, rather than police decoys in sting operations. For example, in October, 2022, a man confessed to paying a woman for sex after being pulled over by a Brownsville Police Department officer for speeding through downtown Brownsville. Police allege that the man was seen on a downtown surveillance camera picking up a woman at the 900 block of East Washington Street, and police stated that his vehicle then traveled toward Palm Boulevard prior to the traffic stop. During the traffic stop, police said the man confessed to picking up the woman to take her to his residence to pay her in exchange for sex, and that the incident was not the first time he picked up that woman for paid sex. The man was arrested for solicitation of prostitution, and the woman for prostitution. The identities of both were publicly disclosed.
Loss of employment is also a consequence of buying sex in the city. For example, in 2015, a former Brownsville third grade teacher was arrested during a web-based multi-agency sex trafficking investigation, linking the former teacher to a 16-year-old sex trafficking victim. The former teacher was one of four men arrested for allegedly sexually exploiting a minor in exchange for money at a local Brownsville motel. According to reports, administrators at the Brownsville Independent School District placed a the former third-grade teacher on paid leave as a result of his arrest.
Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “Detectives Pose as Prostitutes, Arrest 11 Men,” Brownsville Herald, March 28 1995.
- 12 men arrested for soliciting prostitution (2010)
- “Police: Jailer, BISD Employee among Men Arrested for Soliciting Undercover Cop,” Brownsville Herald, March 15 2010.
- “Jailer, School Employee among Dozen Arrested in Brownsville Prostitution Sting,” McAllen Monitor, March 16 2010.
Arrest of Sex Buyer, Identity Disclosure:
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Indictment: Girls Found Enslaved in Prostitution Ring,” Boca Raton News, April 24 1998.
- “One Man in Prostitution Ring Arrested,” Ocala Star-Banner, April 26 1999.
- “Senators Hear Tales of Worldwide Prostitution ‘Slavery,'” Wilmington Morning Star, February 23 2000.
- “Alleged Prostitute Smuggler Held without Bond,” Brownsville Herald, May 6 2009.
- “Brownsville Couple Sentenced for Smuggling Aliens for Prostitution,” News Release, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, December 17 2009.
- “Couple Sentenced for Using Undocumented Immigrants as Prostitutes,” Brownsville Herald, December 17 2009.
- “Police: Man Compelled Teen into Prostitution,” Brownsville Herald, May 11 2015.
- “Police: Man Used Brownsville Hotel to Pimp 16-Year-Old Girl He Met Online,” Brownsville Herald, May 11 2015.
- “Four Arrested for Soliciting Prostitution of Teenage Girl in Brownsville,” CBS/KLBK-TV 40, May 12 2015.
- “South Texas Man Allegedly Pimped 16-Year-Old Girl at Motel after Meeting Her on Social Media,” San Antonio Express-News, May 12 2015.
- https://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/South-Texas-man-allegedly-pimped-16-year-old-girl-6258235.php (2015)
- https://www.facebook.com/BROWNSVILLEPOLICEDEPARTMENT/posts/1561023474139185 (2015)
Background on Sex Trafficking and Prostitution in the Area:
- “Brownsville Cracking down on Prostitution,” Dallas Morning News, March 22 1995.
- “Alleged Illegal Activities, Prostitution Could Condemn Complex,” Brownsville Herald, March 27 1999.
- “Police Raid Attempts to Reduce Prostitution,” Brownsville Herald, June 13 2002.
- “Police Crackdown on Prostitution,” Brownsville Herald, February 24 2004.
- “Police Bust Alleged Prostitution Ring,” Brownsville Herald, October 22 2004.
- “Head of Alleged Prostitution Ring Released on Bond,” Brownsville Herald, October 23 2004.
- “Man Says Prostitute Stole His Money,” Brownsville Herald, July 14 2005.
- “Six Women Arrested on Prostitution Charges,” Brownsville Herald, December 30 2005.
- “Two Arrested for Prostitution Downtown,” Brownsville Herald, August 13 2008.
- “5 Arrested in Weekend Prostitution Roundup,” Harlingen Valley Morning Star, September 30 2008.
- “Police Briefs,” Brownsville Herald, October 13 2008.
- “PD Continues Crackdown on Prostitution,” Brownsville Herald, October 19 2008.
- “BISD Secretary Arrested for Prostitution after Posting Ad on Craigslist,” Brownsville Herald, March 6 2009.
- “BISD Secretary Accused of Prostitution Resigns from School District,” Brownsville Herald, March 9 2009.
- “Police Raid House on Suspicion of Prostitution,” Brownsville Herald, May 5 2009.
- “Prostitution Sting Nets Four Arrests,” Brownsville Herald, August 17 2009.
- “Four Women Arrested in Brownsville Massage Parlor Sting,” Brownsville Herald, March 3 2010.
- “Effort to Rein in Massage Parlors Advances,” Brownsville Herald, August 4 2010.
- “Legitimate Businesses Question Spa Ordinance,” Brownsville Herald, August 10 2010.
- “Man Arrested on Prostitution Charge,” Brownsville Herald, May 14 2012.
- “Downtown Prostitution Sting Leads to 2nd Arrest,”
- “3 Charged with Prostitution after Downtown Sting,” Brownsville Herald, September 18 2013.
- “More Downtown Prostitution Arrests,” Brownsville Herald, September 19 2013.
Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Transvestites Are Victims of Downtown Pranksters,” Brownsville Herald, June 2 2003.
- “Police Looking for Couple Accused of Robbing Elderly Man,” Brownsville Herald, April 8 2006.
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Loss of Employment:
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