Harris County, 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

Harris County is a county of over 4.68 million residents, located in southwest Texas. Houston, TX, is the county’s seat and largest city with approximately 2.3 million residents. Additional communities within the county are Spring, Humble, and Cloverleaf.  Prostitution and sex trafficking are well documented and persistent problems in Harris County and its core city of Houston. A report on Outcomes of Human Trafficking Related Cases Filed in Harris County presents findings from a study conducted from January 2018 to December 2020, by Crime Stoppers of Houston (to download the full report, click HERE). The study found that there were 549 cases filed during the period of study and those cases were dispersed amongst 217 defendants. According to city and county officials, the majority of prostitution and sex trafficking related activity reported within Houston, occurs along the Interstate 10, Interstate 69, and Interstate 45 highways or within their corridors. Additionally, the majority of Sexually Oriented Businesses (SOBs), illicit massage parlors, and the city’s most prolific area of prostitution, the Bissonnet Track, exist along Interstate 45. For example, in 2011, ten individuals were indicted on federal charges of human trafficking in addition to other federal crimes in what is known as either the “Maria Bonita Case” and/or “El Gallo Case.” The decade-long sex trafficking operation is now used as a model for understanding and apprehending similar cantina operations not only within the state but, as well as the country. Sex traffickers lured women from Mexico and/or other parts of Latin America to work in the United States with promises of a “better life,” when upon their arrival, they were branded, beaten, threatened, and sex trafficked in Houston cantinas. The Maria Bonita Cantina was located within the center of Interstate 10, Interstate 45, and Interstate 69. A series of undercover prostitution stings in January of 2014 conducted by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office that resulted in the arrest of 48 sex buyers, occurred near Interstate 45 and FM 1960, Aldine Bender Road and U.S. 59, and Interstate 10 at Freeport.

In 2016, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released a report in which Houston was ranked as the city with the highest amount of human trafficking in the United States, particularly sex trafficking. While this assertion could be based on a variety of factors, the city certainly faces unique and significant threats regarding prostitution and sex trafficking compared to other locations in the United States such as, its proximity to the U.S./Mexico border, home to one of the largest domestic and international seaports in the world, hosts two large international airports, its diverse population, a strong economy that increases labor demands, large population of runaways, and its position to numerous un-tolled highways and critical transportation corridors. In addition, Houston is also one of the three destination cities in what is known as the Texas Triangle. The Texas Triangle is located in the heart of Texas, with the metro areas of HoustonDallasFort Worth, and San Antonio acting as the Triangle’s vertices. The three destination cities are connected through Interstate 35, Interstate 45, and Interstate 10. These highways are popular routes for travel as individuals can easily move between the highly populated cities for either business or leisure. Houston is positioned along corridors of Interstate 10, Interstate 45, and Interstate 69 (U.S. 59). According to the Federal Highway Administration, Interstate 10 is the fifth most traveled route location in terms of annual average daily traffic in the United States, carrying an average of over 300,000 travelers daily. I-10 stretches from Los Angeles, CA to Jacksonville, FL. The portion of I-10 that is in Texas, is the longest un-tolled highway under a single authority in the United States. Over one-third of Interstate 10 lies within the State of Texas, spanning roughly 879 miles. According to FBI Special Agent Suzanne Bradley, human trafficking is a significant issue in Houston because of Interstate 10, “People see Houston as a hub for human trafficking because of its proximity to the border. It also has access to the I-10 highway corridor, which goes across the country, so if they’re smuggling people in and trying to get them into human trafficking in other areas of the country, it’s very easy to get them on that I-10 route and disperse them throughout the country.” Traffickers can easily operate along Interstate 10 unnoticed, especially within Texas as the highway intersects with Interstate 69 which stretches from Mexico to Canada and Interstate 45 which extends from the Gulf of Mexico in Galveston to Dallas. Although sex trafficking and prostitution have been significant issues in City of Houston and in Harris County, officials have invested an extensive amount of time and resources in implementing demand reduction tactics throughout the city in efforts to reduce instances of prostitution and sex trafficking.

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure

To combat consumer-level demand that drives all sex trafficking and prostitution, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office along with local law enforcement agencies have been known to conduct street-level reverse stings targeting sex buyers in the county. The first street-level reverse sting was conducted by the Houston Police Department’s Vice Unit in 1981, in which 52 male sex buyers were arrested for soliciting prostitution. Cameras are also frequently used to record interactions between sex buyers and undercover officers. For example, in 1984, the Houston Police Department’s Vice Unit opened a “nude modeling” business in an area known for prostitution activity using female officers as decoys. Over 300 men attempted to solicit sex from undercover officers. Hidden cameras recorded each of the interactions, including the exchange of identification by sex buyers to undercover officers. No arrests were made at the decoy studio, but rather the then-Harris County District Attorney filed soliciting prostitution charges against the 300 sex buyers upon the conclusion of the investigation. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office has also been known to conducted street-level reverse stings in coordination with local law enforcement agencies. For example, in 2012, the HCSO in collaboration with the Cloverleaf Police Department conducted a street-level reverse sting that resulted in the arrest of 13 male sex buyers. The identities of arrested offenders were included in reports by local news sources. In 2019, the HCSO led a street-level reverse sting investigation that resulted in the arrest of 15 male sex buyers in the City of Cypress. The identities and photos of arrested offenders were included in reports by local news sources.

On occasion, sheriff’s deputies have also conducted street-level reverse stings along major roadways in the county (such as Interstate 45 North, the Eastex Freeway, and Beltway 8). In these instances, HSCO operatives have similarly opted not to reveal the exact location of the arrests. For example, in September 2013, 15 male sex buyers were arrested after soliciting sex from female deputies posing as prostituted women “along the I-45 North and Eastex Freeway frontage roads, just south of Beltway 8.” Similarly, in August 2014, the HCSO reported it arrested 76 male sex buyers during a two-week reverse sting operation, the location of which was not disclosed. Following the investigation, the HCSO Sheriff stated:

“Prostitution is intertwined with sex slavery and illegal drugs as part of an insidious network of criminal enterprises… This is not the first time we have used undercover male and female deputies to disrupt these illegal operations, and it won’t be the last. If you buy sex in Harris County, the price can also include jail time.”

Sex buyers (as well as those who are sexually exploited) routinely have their names, photos, and other identifying information released to the local media. For example, in September of 2018, Houston police released 54 new booking photos of people arrested in August for either compelling prostitution or solicitation of prostitution.

In September, 2021, the Harris County Precinct 4 Constable’s Office conducted an undercover prostitution operation in north Harris County near schools and businesses and made 10 arrests. The operation started on Sept. 1 to coincide with new House Bill 1540 going into effect, changing the crime of soliciting prostitution from a misdemeanor to a felony. “Prostitution is one of the prime driving forces behind human trafficking, with the new felony penalties the demand for paid sex will be reduced,” Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman said via a news release.

Web-Based Reverse Stings

In recent years, police have incorporated the use of web stings, resulting in the arrests of scores of sex buyers. For example, a 2013 study conducted by the Arizona State University Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research and the Phoenix Police Department, tracked decoy online sex services such as prostitution and found that Houston was the most active of 15 cities studied. The telephone numbers for the voicemail and text responses to online sex ads were collected, and the market data found that more than one in five Houston males (21.4 percent) were soliciting online sex ads. In Houston, that translates to an estimated 170,000 males over the age of 18 who have solicited sex from online commercial sex ads. In 2017, Harris County deputies arrested 161 sex buyers and HPD officers arrested 88 sex buyers and nine sex traffickers during a month-long series of reverse stings. Among the total of 250 sex buyers and traffickers arrested during the stings, was a former Houston police officer. The operation in Harris County and Houston was coordinated with similar efforts elsewhere as part of the National Johns Suppression Initiative during the months of June and July in 2017, in which law enforcement agencies in 17 states participated. During the first three months of 2018, in part of a larger initiative combatting demand for prostitution and sex trafficking, more than 120 male sex buyers were arrested for compelling prostitution or solicitation of prostitution by Houston police. In April 2018, an additional 33 sex buyers were arrested. In October 2018, 21 people were arrested for either compelling prostitution or soliciting prostitution. In addition to reports by local news sources, the offenders’ identities, photos, ages, and charges were included.

Employment Loss 

Employment loss is also a consequence of sex buying in the county, in particular with Houston’s city officials. For example, in January 2016, deputies with the Harris County Precinct 4 Constable’s Office arrested a former Houston Police Department officer during a prostitution investigation in north Harris County. Court records show he pleaded no contest and received deferred adjudication probation. According to an HPD spokesperson, as a result of the arrest, the officer was relieved of duty with pay pending the outcome of the criminal case and HPD’s internal review. He retired later in 2016. Nine months later, Houston police arrested another former HPD officer during an undercover operation after he attempted to solicit sex from undercover Internal Affairs officer at a Motel 6 in west Houston. He was subsequently fired and criminally charged, but the case was dismissed after he was placed in a pretrial diversion program. In 2017, a third former HPD officer was one of 139 men arrested in a prostitution sting at a massage parlor that had once been a well-known underground brothel, according to court records. The sex buyer was initially suspended with pay, but later retried on November 1st, 2017, as a result of his arrest. He pleaded no contest to the charge and received deferred adjudication probation, which was reduced and terminated in 2018.

In January 2019, a fourth former HPD officer was terminated from employment after HPD homicide investigators discovered text messages between the former officer and a prostituted woman who had recently been murdered. The officer was fired from the HPD and charged with soliciting prostitution. In July of 2019, a fifth former Houston police officer was arrested for allegedly attempting to solicit sex during a sting operation in Fort Bend County. The officer, a 22-year veteran of the Houston Police Department who was assigned to the downtown division, was relieved of duty the same day pending the outcome of the investigation. According to reports, the former officer is the fifth HPD police officer in the last three years arrested for solicitation of prostitution. In October of 2021, a former firefighter, who had been with the Houston Fire Department for 13 years, was arrested for solicitation of prostitution. According to court documents, on Oct. 2, the former HFD Captain offered and agreed to pay a fee for the purpose of engaging in sexual conduct. As a result of his arrest, the fire department relieved the sex buyer of duty with pay pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation.

In September, 2022, fifteen people were arrested in an undercover prostitution sting operation by officials with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Organized Crime Unit and the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance. A Chief Deputy of the Harris County Constable’s Office Pct. 5 was among those arrested. He was charged with solicitation of prostitution, a state jail felony. ABC Houston cited a statement from the Constable’s office saying the man had been fired: “We hold our deputies to the highest standard. His termination is effective immediately.” The man was was also a former Houston police officer and had been in law enforcement for over three decades, according to his website. His website also said that he trained law enforcement officers nationally.

SOAP Orders

In addition to street-level reverse stings, web-based reverse stings, and buyer arrests, the City of Houston has been active in reducing the demand for commercial sex along the Bissonnet Track, Houston’s most notorious area for prostitution and sex trafficking. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity along the Bissonnet Track is far from inconspicuous or underground. After witnessing the Bissonnet Track for the first time, a local reporter described the scene, “It was clear what was going on in front of our eyes, not just to us but people at work and pedestrians walking by, even to the children walking to and from school.” The reported recalled being, “stunned by the casual nature of the enterprise.” Women ranged in age from as young as teenagers to as old as in their late 50s. Some women were transgender, a few of the women were reported to be visibly pregnant, some were visibly high, and many were described as being in apparent distress. In 2018, Harris County implemented a civil injunction against 86 individuals, 50 prostituted persons, 23 sex buyers, and 13 pimps/sex traffickers who were frequently arrested for prostitution-related offenses along Bissonnet Track. If named individuals were found in violation of the injunction, they could face fines from $1,000 to $10,000 and up to 30 days in jail. Additionally, the injunction deemed the area an “Anti-Prostitution Zone,” with the intention of banning named individuals from engaging in certain “prostitution-related activities.” The Bissonnet Anti-Prostitution Zone, is a small triangle less than a half mile across, bound by the intersection of two major highways and its main through street, Bissonnet Street, known for its diverse immigrant populations and heavy concentration of small businesses and restaurants. According to a three-part series in the Houston Chronicle called, The Track, “residents of the Bissonnet area are significantly poorer and with less schooling than the typical Houstonian. About 27 percent of adults 25 and older have less than a ninth-grade education, compared with 13 percent in Houston. And 40 percent are below the poverty level, compared with less than 21 percent citywide, according to Census data collected between 2013 to 2017. The median household income is just over $27,000, below Houston’s median of more than $49,000.” In addition, crime along Bissonnet Track is overwhelming. Local business owners have openly expressed concerns for the safety of their lives and their businesses as public instances of violence, gang-related activities, drugs, and prostitution plague the community. According to the Houston Police Department, between 2016 and 2018 approximately 4,000 instances of crime were reported along Bissonnet Track and 25% of reports were for prostitution-related offenses.

However, in 2021, under new legislation, 36 individuals were removed from the civil injunction. The new Harris County Attorney, Christian Menefee, stated his reasoning for removing the individuals from the injunction was because he believed that targeting prostituted women is ineffective as the many of these women have been confirmed victims of sex trafficking and suing them would only inflict further harm to the women, “Our region is a hub for human trafficking, so it’s important that government prioritize fighting to end these crimes while at the same time protecting victims. This lawsuit did not achieve those goals. It proved to be ineffective, and the proposed injunction would likely create another layer of harm for victims.” HPD Vice efforts now focus on combatting the demand for commercial sex by arresting sex buyers and pimps/sex traffickers. In addition, the city, county, and local organizations and non-profits are working together to provide women and victims of sex trafficking the information and resources they need. For example, local non-profits such as Elijah Rising and The Landing, which is located within the Bissonnet Anti-Prostitution Zone, are working with city and county officials to assist victims of sex trafficking through the journey of recovery. A recovery and exit program called, “We’ve Been There Done That,” under Precinct 1 Constable’s Office works with prisons in the Houston, TX area to assist women who have been arrested for prostitution and sex trafficking rebuild their lives. The founder, Kathy Griffin-Grinan, started the program in order to help women exit, recover, and rebuild their lives from prison. Griffin believed that the prostitution industry along Bissonnet Track would allow her to pay her college tuition, but soon fell into a drug dependence and struggled to exit. She started the organization to help women who are facing similar circumstances as she did overcome drug additions, past traumas, and safely exit prostitution. According to reports, “Griffin-Grinan went to rehab 22 times, but said she never got better, because she never addressed the root problem—the sexual trauma she had endured from incidents as a teenager and from being a prostitute.” Griffin-Grinan is also a peer-recovery coach with Santa Maria Hostel, an addiction recovery and treatment center in Houston.

In accordance with new state legislation increasing the offense of soliciting prostitution from a Class A Misdemeanor to a State Jail Felony, taking effect on September 1st, 2021, Houston and Harris County officials announced on August 23rd, 2021, that to better enforce the increased penalties for sex buyers, they have mounted cameras around the neighborhood. Attorneys and city officials also reported an increase in prostitution-related activity along Bissonnet Track as a result of the pandemic. Officials posted large orange signs within the neighborhood to warn pedestrians, motorists, and cyclists about new surveillance and increased penalties.

John Schools

City and county officials, neighborhood organizations and other non-governmental groups have proposed the implementation of a “john school” in Houston as a tactic to reduce demand for commercial sex and sex trafficking. However, only recently was a “john school” established within the city. Currently, two non-profit organizations offer a “john school,” both being fairly establishments.

The Sex Buyers Transformation and Restoration Program (S.T.A.R. Program)

Love People Not Pixels, is a non-profit that combats commercial sex and sex trafficking by incorporating demand reduction strategies within their organization, such as providing a “john school.” The Sex Buyers Transformation and Restoration Program (S.T.A.R. Program) is a 2-hour orientation class, where in exchange for selecting to participate, the DA’s office in the city or county where the offender was arrested in may seek reduced penalties on the prostitution charge(s) being faced.

Stopping Sexual Exploitation: A Program for Men

United Against Human Trafficking (UAHT), offers a “john school” as an initiative existing within both the Direct Services Program and Demand Reduction ProgramsStopping Sexual Exploitation: A Program for Men is a 10-week small group designed to help men develop and promote their own decisions to not buy sex. A pilot program was launched in November of 2020 and beginning in early 2021, Stopping Sexual Exploitation: A Program for Men was officially launched. The program consists of the following components:

  • Two individual 60-minute sessions of Motivation Interviewing
  • Eight weekly group sessions that cover these topics:
    • Sexuality and Gender Socialization,
    • Harm to Victim/Survivors,
    • The Sexual Violence Continuum,
    • Pimping, Trafficking and Domestic Violence,
    • Power and Violence,
    • Vulnerability,
    • Mutuality in Relationships; and
    • The Will to Change

Community Service 

In February 2018, an analysis by the Houston Chronicle of more than 300 prostitution-related offense arrest records from the year 2017, found that of the 178 male sex buyers arrested in Houston in 2017, close to 70% of offenders had their charges dismissed or were on track for dismissal. The high rate of dismissals for men arrested on charges of soliciting a prostitute prompted the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to scale back the useof a pre-trial diversion program that allowed many defendants to avoid convictions. Of the 178 men arrested, more than 95 enrolled in the diversion program, which typically offers a six-monthto one-year probationary term approved by the district attorney’s office for first-time offenders. Defendants agree to undergo drug testing, pay fees, complete an AIDS awareness course, and/or participate in community service opportunities. Once the probationary terms are fulfilled, the charge is dismissed. The pre-trial diversion program was not a “john school,” but rather a program that allowed arrested sex buyers to seek expungement, leaving no evidence of their arrest or diversion. According to the Houston Chronicle’s analysis, about 14% of all the cases stemming from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office during their participation in the 13th National Johns Suppression Initiative, were expunged by February 2018.

Neighborhood Action, Public Education

Neighborhood organizations and other non-governmental groups are actively collaborating with government agencies to combat demand for commercial sex. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said, “Our aim is for Harris County and Houston to shed the dubious distinction as America’s sex trafficking capital. By focusing our efforts on sex buyers who are seeking to take advantage of sex trafficking victims, we are putting these predators on notice that our community won’t tolerate their behavior.” While Harris County is one of the counties with the highest prevalence of prostitution and sex trafficking, local and county officials, residents, and various organizations have taken serious action to reduce the demand for commercial sex, help victims of sex trafficking, and raise awareness.

Free the Captives

Since 2011, the local organization has been focused on disrupting the demand for commercial sex and through research and policy work, in addition to through reducing the demand by focusing on sex buyers through their “Buyer Sex? Bye, bye Freedom!” billboard, radio, and TV campaign, in collaboration with the Harris County Sherriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office. Additionally, the organization conducted a research project that analyzed data from Backpage.com, a webpage which hosted commercial sex ads. Researchers concluded that because of a very large number of online ads, Houston is a major city for commercial sex and sex trafficking, and online ads are caused by a high demand for sex from buyers in Houston. Thus, it is the demand for sex that is fueling commercial sex and sex trafficking in Houston. Bakcpage.com was shut down in 2018, four years after Free the Captives concluded their research project. To read the full article click, HERE.

United Against Human Trafficking (UAHT)

United Against Hyman Trafficking (UAHT) was originally founded as Houston Rescue and Restore in 2007. UAHT seeks to end human trafficking through preventing exploitation, educating the community, and empowering survivors. A total of five programs exist within UAHT: Education, Youth Programs, Direct Services, Outreach, and Coalition. Each program offers a set of unique services, but collectively have the same goal: the aspiration for all people to experience freedom and live beyond bondage to others, by envisioning a world that is intolerant of buyers and sellers of human beings. In addition to their five pillar programs, UAHT has specifically created demand reduction initiatives through a separate set of programs called, Demand Reduction Programs that drive cultural change to end human trafficking, starting with individual actions.

Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition

UAHT created the Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition (HRRC) in the early 2000s and today, the coalition consists of 55+ social service agencies, faith communities, businesses, and other non-profit organizations with a common goal of “creating a systemic solution of care and community resources for our great city.” In addition to providing survivor resources, education, and training, many affiliated organizations focus on combatting the demand for commercial sex and sex trafficking such as the Texas Sex Trafficking Obliteration Project (T-STOP). T-STOP is based on the premise that victims are a result of the city’s demand for commercial sex and that by disrupting the demand, there would similarly be a reduction in rates of victimization, as a result of a market reduction.

The Houston Area Against Trafficking (HAAT)

The HAAT is a team of survivor/overcomer leaders and non-profit leaders working with community leaders to determine a citywide strategy to fill gaps and strengthen services to combat sex trafficking in Houston, TX. HAAT is a community of over 40 organizations with many focusing on reducing the demand for commercial sex and sex trafficking. For example, Street Grace is a faith-based, non-profit that utilizes evidence-based demand reduction strategies to eradicate the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC). One of their demand reduction initiatives, Transaction Intercept, works to find the “buyers” of minor sex and erodes their notion of “anonymity”. After identifying potential buyers, Street Grace communicates with these individuals using an artificial intelligence chatbot, Gracie. Once the intent to purchase a minor is confirmed Gracie communicates the risks and consequences of the potential buyer’s actions. Additionally, Transaction Intercept provides trauma and therapy resources to all individual “buyers” to aid them in taking the first step in receiving help.

Children At Risk

Children At Risk is a non-profit organization in Houston, TX is committed to strengthening laws and policies on human trafficking and improving the response to children who have been commercially sexually exploited. Reducing the demand for commercial sex and sex trafficking is prioritized by the organization. For example, in 2007, The Center to End the Trafficking and Exploitation of Children (CETEC) was established. The CETEC is the only center of its kind in Texas to combat domestic minor sex trafficking through education, the convening of nonprofits and community leaders, and non-partisan advocacy to curb demand and support victims. They have also published demand-oriented research articles such as, The Sex Trafficking Marketplace: Addressing Demand through Legislation and Tactics, in 2015.

Citizens Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation Coalition (CEASE)

The CEASE Network is a collaboration of pioneering cities committed to reducing sex-buying. This action-oriented network is dedicated to innovating, testing, and sharing strategies with a proven impact on deterring people from buying sex in many major metropolitan areas. The CEASE Network was conceptualized by and receives support from Demand Abolition, a program of Hunt Alternatives that combats the demand for illegal commercial sex as a way to eliminate the harms of the illegal sex trade in the United States. Currently, there are two CEASE locations in Texas: Houston and North Texas. Children At Risk coordinates both CEASE Texas teams (Houston and North Texas) to create and execute strategies for reducing demand. These teams take a holistic approach and rely on the expertise and collaboration of survivors, law enforcement, service providers, researchers, public officials, corporate leaders, philanthropists, and others to address demand. CEASE Texas is a collaborative effort to end the demand for commercial sex and human trafficking victims. CEASE Texas believes that sex trafficking exists because there is a receptive market of male buyers willing to purchase and exploit victims. No buyers, means no demand. CEASE Texas has implemented numerous demand reduction tactics, including two technology-based tactics:

Cyber Patrols:

  • Cyber Patrols are the primary focus of CEASE Volunteers. CEASE created Cyber Patrols as a way for more men to become active in disrupting buyer demand. Through Cyber Patrols, men are offered a tangible, action-oriented, and effective way to help eliminate sex trafficking, one buyer at a time. CEASE Texas posts decoy ads on popular buyer websites, and volunteers will respond to phone calls and texts from the attempted buyers. Volunteers meet once a month for a year, and these patrols last around two hours.

Dashboard & Chatbot:

  • The CEASE Texas Human Trafficking Dashboard tracks ads across nine key regions in Texas (Houston, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Odessa, Galveston, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, and El Paso). The dashboard tracks the total number of ads in addition to unique ads, data on the average reported age of provider, location, and features a search bar.
  • CEASE Texas posts decoy ads. When buyers respond, the personal information corresponding with their telephone number is recorded along with their texts. CEASE Texas’ chatbot responds with a series of questions. The answers to these questions help us to build buyer data.

CEASE Texas has also conducted research that focuses on demand for commercial sex and sex trafficking in Houston, TX.

Houston Independent School District

The Texas Department of Education (TEA) recently created a training program and educational resources for district and school personnel called, Texas RISE to the Challenge. While this program is beneficial, the material is not site specific and has rarely been implemented at large throughout the state. As a result, in 2018, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) passed legislation allowing HISD Board of Education to create and implement an evidence-based training program for school and district personnel so they can recognize and safely report suspicious activity to the appropriate authorities and agencies. A local non-profit, Children at Risk, similarly urged the City of Houston to create such a program based on a research study conducted by the organization analyzing the number of illicit massage parlors existing in close proximity to public schools within Harris County. According to reports, researchers found 259 suspected illicit massage businesses (SIMBs) in Harris County, more than any other county in Texas, and twenty-three schools public schools, representing more than 16,000 students, were identified as being located within 1,000 feet of a suspected IMB. Further, approximately 300,000 students in Harris County (approximately one-third of students), attend schools within a mile of a suspected IMB. To view the entire report, click HERE.

Harris County Department of Education

The Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools has been working with the non-profit, United Against Human Trafficking (UAHT) in order to raise awareness and educate individuals about the problem. The director of HCDE’s Center for Safe and Secure Schools, Ecomet Burley, said, “Human trafficking of school-age children is an emerging trend that must be on the radar screen of educators today. The Center for Safe and Secure Schools looks forward to collaborating and providing school district staff with relevant information, along with staff development, to address this issue. Helping school districts provide a safe learning environment for students and staff is our highest priority here at the Center.”

Mayor’s Office of Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence

In 2015, the Houston Mayor’s office became the first city in the United States to establish a full-time cabinet position to address labor and sex trafficking through a municipal lens. Additionally, the office promised to develop a comprehensive model for the city that included leveraging city departments, increasing awareness at scale, filling gaps in services, increasing screenings in the public health arena and ensuring our comprehensive municipal response serves as a model. Prior to creating a comprehensive municipal response to human trafficking, the office engaged in a 6-month long landscape analysis, speaking with over 250 stakeholders across the US and in Houston, that revealed gaping holes that the city’s plan intends to fill. This plan has 5 objectives and over 100 strategies and tactics. Phase 1 was announced in April 2016 and it was completed in May 2020. Phase 2 was issued as we were neared completion of phase 1. Phase 2 implementation, continual process improvement, and data tracking of phase 1 programs dictates the office’s daily functions. In 2020, the office expanded to include resources and prevention for domestic violence.

Project 180

Harris County District Attorney, Kim Ogg, has spoken out about the rising problem and has made it a priority to address it via the creation of Project 180. Project 180 seeks to redefine Harris County’s approach to human trafficking by utilizing a multi-disciplinary team to identify victims while aggressively prosecuting their exploiters. Project 180 is a program funded by the Texas Governor’s Office and has four major goals that include:

  • reduce the harm of a criminal conviction for young offenders, aged 17 to 24, charged with prostitution-selling who likely entered into this life as adolescents and trafficking victims;
  • bridge this same population with a community agency (Houston Area Women’s Center) for services with an eye toward leaving the life;
  • increase accountability of exploiters (sex buyers and sex traffickers) through increased prosecution and sentencing; and
  • gather data and research to inform future policy regarding this population

For more information about Project 180, click HERE.

One collaboration that is working to identify and eradicate human trafficking is the Houston Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA). HTRA is a nationally recognized collaboration of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, working in tandem with service providers and nonprofit organizations, to identify and assist victims of human trafficking in the greater Houston area so they can effectively identify, apprehend and prosecute human trafficking offenders.

Research and Data

Busch-Armendariz et al., 2016, Human Trafficking by the Numbers: The Initial Benchmark of Prevalence and Economic Impact for Texas

The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault has estimated there to be more than 300,000 victims of human trafficking, including almost 79,000 minors and youth victims of sex trafficking and nearly 234,000 adult victims of labor trafficking in Texas at any given time. (It is important to note that the study did not include an estimated prevalence number for adult victims of sex trafficking.) The report further estimated that minor and youth sex trafficking costs the state of Texas approximately $6.6 billion annually.

Roe-Sepowitz et al., 2013, Invisible Offenders-Estimating Online Sex Customers

A 2013 study conducted by the Arizona State University Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research and the Phoenix Police Department, tracked decoy online sex services such as prostitution and found that Houston was the most active of 15 cities studied. The telephone numbers for the voicemail and text responses to online sex ads were collected, and the market data found that more than one in five Houston males (21.4 percent) were soliciting online sex ads. In Houston, that translates to an estimated 170,000 males over the age of 18 who have solicited sex from online commercial sex ads.

Crime Stoppers of Houston, 2020, Outcomes of Human Trafficking Related Cases Filed in Harris County

The study analyzed human trafficking relatedcharges in Harris County from January 2018 to December 2020. In total there were 549 cases filed during the period of study and those cases were dispersed amongst 217 defendants. Researchers subcategorized the 217 defendants into 6 groups including: defendants currently out on bond; defendants on bond at the time of the new charges in custody; defendants wanted for bond forfeiture (wanted fugitive); defendant with cases transferred to federal custody and dispositions (state and federal); and defendants with cases dismissed due to a missing witness, lack of witness, or defendant death, or issues related to probable cause.The study found that 67% of defendants charged in state courts received sentences of 5 years or less or community supervision. The study also found that 90% of offenders did not have to register as a sex offender after conviction. These findings can aid Harris County and anti-trafficking advocacy work better comprehend the landscape of human trafficking offenders in Houston. In 2019 the Harris County District Attorney’s Office filed 244 Human Trafficking or Compelling Prostitution cases which was more than double the 106 cases filed in 2016.

The Avery Center, 2021, Houston, We Have a Problem: Cost of Risk to Traffickers, Buyers and Victims in the Commercial Sex Trade

In May 2021 the authors of the article, Houston, We Have a Problem: Cost of Risk to Traffickers, Buyers and Victims in the Commercial Sex Trade, estimated the cost of risk to traffickers and buyers to victims in the commercial sex trade within Houston, Texas. Researchers sough to estimate the cost of risk in order to help policy makers, law enforcement, prosecutors, and others approach the commercial sex industry more efficiently. By raising the risk for exploiters and reducing harm to victims, researchers believe this will help end the demand for commercial sex and put sex traffickers out of businesses. As sex trafficking and commercial sex are illegal enterprises, accounting of the cost of risk should any involved party be arrested, convicted, and fined were determined as key components. In any industry, demand drives supply and profit. The commercial sex industry is no different. Researchers began with predicting the extent of sex trafficking victimization, including estimated prevalence, value, profit in Houston, Texas.

The Table below presents a side-by-side comparison of buyers, traffickers, and victims for engaging in the commercial sex trade. It should be noted here that actual choice to engage in the commercial sex trade lies only in the hands of buyers and traffickers, yet their cost of risk is negligible. In fact, victims’ cost of financial risk is over 100 times that of a trafficker. The majority of research on sex trafficking victimization reveals that victims do not earn any of the money that is exchanged for sex. For a full summary of the article, click HERE.

Table 1. Cost of Risk to Traffickers, Sex Buyers, and Prostituted People/Victims in Houston, Texas (2019)

Monthly NIBRS Crime Metadata by Street/Neighborhood (Police Beat)

The Houston Police Department provides open access to all NIBRS Arrest Reports through their website. The information contained in these reports is a monthly breakdown of Group “A” and Group “B” Offenses for which HPD wrote police reports.  The data is broken down by police districts and beats and displayed by street name and block range. The NIBRS Data by street is updated monthly in one aggregated data file and presented in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.

Below are summarized versions of the data reported by HPD from 2019-2021. Each summarized data set is categorized by year. Click on the year to download the complete Excel file.

Number of Offenses Per Year
Crime 2019 2020 2021 (January-June)
Prostitution 684 363 252
Assisting and/or Promoting Prostitution 69 53 20
Purchasing Prostitution 309 252 159
Human Trafficking/Commercial Sex 96 98 49
Total Prostitution Related Offenses 1,158 776 480

Additional Studies

Key Sources

Neighborhood Action, Public Education:

Identity Disclosure:

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings:

Employment Loss:

Community Service:

Background on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Child Endangerment:

  • “Pct. 4: Former HPD Officer Had 4-Year-Old with Him When Busted in Prostitution Sting; North Harris County Prostitution Bust Nets a Dozen Arrests,” NBC/KPRC-TV 2, February 12 2016.

Research, Reports:

State Texas
Type County
Population 4681000
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