Harlingen, TX

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

Harlingen is a city in Southern Texas with a population of approximately 71,000 residents, located in Cameron County, TX, near Brownsville in the Rio Grande Valley. Instances of prostitution and sex trafficking have been documented in the city for decades. Among the more serious issues associated with the commercial sex market in the city are child sex trafficking and international sex trafficking between the United States and Mexico. For example, in January 2012, local law enforcement reported a case involving the sex trafficking of a minor in Harlingen. The victim, a 15-year-old female, was picked up by a man at a city park and taken to a nearby hotel where she was beaten, drugged and sexually exploited in exchange for money. The sex trafficker charged with compelling prostitution and four drug-related charges; he was incarcerated and held on $639,000 bail. The “sex buyer” accused of sexually exploiting the victim in exchange for money was also arrested, however details of his arrest remain to be released.

To reduce prostitution and sex trafficking activity in the city, the Harlingen Police Department has conducted periodic street-level reverse stings since at least 1996, if not earlier. As a warning to other potential sex buyers, the HPD frequently releases the names, photos, and other identifying information of arrested sex buyers. In May and October of 2014, police conducted reversals resulting in the arrest of 11 sex buyers, whose names, ages, and photos were posted online. In 2015, a two-day reverse sting operation in Harlingen, funded by a Texas Border Star grant, resulted in the arrest of more than 30 male sex buyers for soliciting prostitution. The joint-operation was conducted by the Texas Department of Public SafetyCameron County District Attorney’s Office, the Cameron County High Intensity Drug-Trafficking Area Office, and the City of Harlingen Municipal Court. In 2016, a similar operation, under the same grant, was conducted that resulted in the arrest of 15 male sex buyers in Harlingen. The offenders’ identities, photos, ages, locations, and charges were included in reports from local news sources. A third operation conducted in 2017, resulted in the arrest of 16 male sex buyers. Cameras were known to have been used by police to record both the 2016 and 2017 investigations.

Public education and neighborhood action have also been reported as tactics used to reduce the demand for commercial sex in the city. For example, in 2008, volunteers from the Men’s Resource Center in South Texas, led by the organization’s then-executive director, Emiliano Diaz de Leon, gathered to protest the prostitution stings focused on arrested prostituted women rather than the sex buyers. Amongst other educational trainings that have been reported to occur in the city, in 2010, the HPD assisted in the formation of the Rio Grande Valley Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition in effort to address the significant issue that the city of Harlingen and its surrounding communities face regarding international human trafficking between the United States and Mexico. The coalition is comprised of local law enforcement agencies, including the Harlingen Police Department, nongovernmental organizations, and other interested partners. The coalition also provides educational trainings and materials that target sex buying and the demand for commercial sex as the source of prostitution and sex trafficking.

Key Sources

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Neighborhood Action:


Public Education:

Background on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the Area:

State Texas
Type City
Population 71925
Comments are closed.