Houston, 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

Houston is one of the largest cities in the United States, with over 2.3 million residents, located in Harris County, TX. The large metropolis extends to Galveston Bay in the Gulf of Mexico. Commercial sex continues to occur in a wide variety of venues including streets, hotels, and nightclubs, and storefront brothels (such as nail salons and health clubs). For example, in the summer of 2020, a woman was arrested on charges of promotion of prostitution during an undercover investigation at a Houston-areamassage spa located between Interstate 10 and Interstate 45. The investigation was initiated after a citizen complaint regarding prostitution activity occurring at the spa. Deputies were able to rescue a 65-year-old woman living at the massage parlor who was recruited by the parlor’s owners online from Los Angeles. Investigators worked with Harris County Precinct 1 Human Trafficking Victim’s Liaison Kathy Griffin along with YMCA and Rescue USA to translate and provide resources for the victim, including a safe place to stay. In the state of Texas, promotionof prostitution is a third-degree felony.

The high volume of prostitution has a well-documented impact on generating a wide range of ancillary crimes, deteriorating neighborhoods, generating complaints to police, and causing tenants to move from office buildings. For many years, restaurants, and small retail businesses in the Hillcroft and Gulfton area have complained to police that customers are driven away by a visible solicitation for street prostitution in parking lots and sidewalks. For example, in 2004, in an undercover prostitution sting conducted by the Houston Police Vice Unit and Westside Patrol, 26 men were arrested on charges of soliciting prostitution in a single day. Within the boundaries of the Hillcroft and Gulfton areas lies Bissonnet Street, otherwise known as the city’s unofficial “red light district”. In addition, residential complaints to police have caused harm to some of the small business owners within the area. For example, in 2017, a small business owner within the area declined to have her face shown on camera during an interview, as previous complaints resulted in local pimps/sex traffickers firing gun shots through the store windows. As a result of the overwhelming amount of prostitution and sex trafficking reports within the area, in 2018, the City of Houston declared the street an “Anti-Prostitution Zone,” in addition to imposing a civil injunction where 86 individuals with prior prostitution-related arrests along Bissonnet Street, were sued and subsequently banned from returning to the area. In January 2022, a man was found dead outside of a car in an area of southwest Houston known for prostitution, in a secluded parking lot in the 9700 block of Bissonnet Street near Country Creek Street. When officers arrived, they say it appeared someone approached the man’s vehicle and shot him through the left rear window. Police say the man was found pantless outside of his car with a gunshot wound. He was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics. For more on the Bissonnet Track, click HERE. In addition to longstanding, documented problems with prostitution, sex trafficking has become a growing local concern as well over the past 20 years.

Background on Sex Trafficking in Houston 

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2016), Houston is ranked number one for the amount of human trafficking in all cities 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 Houston, Dallas-Fort 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 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.

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, 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 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. Although sex trafficking and prostitution have been significant issues in Houston, 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.

Additionally, the city hosts a large number of victim-centered organizations that offer a variety of programs and resources for women with a current or past conviction for prostitution or a history of prostitution such as Roadway to Freedom and Project 180. Roadway to Freedom is an exit strategy program at the Plane State Jail, that is designed to help female offenders abandon prostitution and reintegrate them into a safe and healthy community environment, with the goal of ending the self-perpetuating cycle which leads back to drug abuse and prostitution. Whereas Project 180 is a pre-trial diversion program initiated by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office (HCDAO) in for defendants charged with prostitution (selling). The program recognizes the widespread victimization among prostituted persons, including childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault, and human trafficking. For more information about Project 180, click HERE.

Local Demand Reduction 

Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. Demand reduction tactics used in the city and surrounding areas include reverse stings, the disclosure of sex buyer identities, and “john school” education programs for local sex buyers. On September 1, 2021 a Texas state law took effect that made simple solicitation of prostitution between adults a felony level crime, and was the first state to do so.  HB 1540, made solicitation of prostitution a state jail felony on the first offense and made it punishable by up two years in jail upon conviction. One year afterward, a KHOU 11 Investigates analysis of court records showed that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office rarely obtained felony convictions in those cases, but the leverage created by the felony charge resulted in most of the sex buyers agreeing to participate in an educational program and to pay a substantial fine or make a donation to a survivor program. In the year after the law took effect, an analysis of court records showed that 518 felony solicitation of prostitution cases had been filed. Of the 232 cases that had been disposed of, just 11 (5%) ended in felony convictions, while 178 cases (77%) of those that were disposed of were dismissed under a pretrial diversion program. In those deals offered by prosecutors, defendants generally were required to take a  “John school” class and either pay a fine or make a donation to the Houston Area Women’s Center. In return, those sex buyers were later given an opportunity to have the criminal charge expunged from their record.

Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure

In response to residents’ and businesses’ complaints, the Houston Police Department has adopted a multi-faceted approach to deterring offenders. In addition to traditional strategies targeting prostituted women, the HPD has attacked the demand portion of local commercial sex markets by conducting reverse sting operations. The first reverse sting known to have occurred in Houston occurred in 1981. In that operation, four undercover decoys were deployed, along with support teams of uniformed and plainclothes officers. The operation resulted in the arrests of 52 sex buyers. As a result of the HPD Vice Department’s demonstrable effectiveness of arresting women engaged in prostitution, coupled with persistent complaints from the community to do something to reduce or eliminate commercial sex and the array of tangible problems associated with it, the decision to attack demand for prostitution was necessary according to the HPD Vice Division Captain Tom Shane. Captain Shane said, “I just became sick and tired of getting complaints of prostitutes out there. We arrested an average of more than a hundred prostitutes and nearly all are repeat offenders.”

Some of the subsequent reverse stings were very large in scale; for example, an operation in 1985 resulted in the arrests of approximately 300 men. More recent reverse stings have yielded more typical numbers of arrests; for example, during a month-long initiative by the Houston Police Department Vice Division along with officers from the HPD Southeast Patrol Differential Response Team (DRT), focused on decreasing demand for commercial sex, officials  conducted three distinct initiatives in southeast Houston off of Interstate 45 from November 19th to December 15th, 2015. As a result, 24 men were arrested and charged with prostitution after attempting to purchase commercial sex. Following most reverse stings in Houston, the names, races, and dates of birth of arrested sex buyers have been posted online in police department news releases and carried by some local news outlets.

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, Identity Disclosure

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 people were arrested for compelling prostitution or solicitation of prostitution by Houston police. 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.

IT-Based Tactics

IT-based tactics have been incorporated into the multi-site demand reduction operations coordinated by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office. Since 2011, the Cook County (IL) Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) has been coordinating periodic reverse sting operations occurring simultaneously in multiple cities throughout the United States. The collaborative effort was initially called the “National Day of John Arrests,” and then in 2015 was renamed National Johns Suppression Initiative (NJSI). The coalition of agencies that participate in these coordinated enforcement efforts grew from eight to more than 100. The 19 NJSI operations from 2011 through 2021 have involved the collaboration of over 140 law enforcement agencies, and have collectively produced the arrests of more than 10,000 sex buyers. Since August 2018, some of the NJSI operations have incorporated the use of decoy internet ads that connected to an AI bot, created by Childsafe.ai. The bot interacts with sex buyers to the point where it sends a deterrence message warning of the legal and social dangers of prostitution and sex trafficking.

Initially, the Cook County Sheriff’s Police and eight other agencies utilized the bot, including the principle police departments and sheriff’s offices in Boston, MA; Des Moines, WA; McHenry County, IL; New York, NY; Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; Tarrant County, TX; and Upper Merion Township, PA. Across several subsequent NJSI operations, 18 cities and counties used the Childsafe.ai bots to combat demand.

The childsafe bot and other similar products can continuously scrape data or monitor “signal” from open source electronic communications, analyze the raw input, and flag messages as probably depicting a commercial sex offer or transaction. They also engage buyers in some form of interaction designed to deter individuals from attempting to purchase sex, at the present “point of purchase” moment as well as in the future. This approach seeks to disrupt (and ultimately collapse) commercial sex markets by reducing demand.

Employment Loss

Employment loss is also a consequence of sex buying in Houston, in particular with 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 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 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.

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 Houston is one of the cities with the highest prevalence of prostitution and sex trafficking, the community has 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.

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.

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

Demand Disruption (formerly 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 sex buyer accountability program, 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 (Men’s Accountability)

United Against Human Trafficking (UAHT), offers a sex buyer accountability program as an initiative existing within both the Direct Services Program and Demand Reduction Programs. Stopping 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 2020 and in 2021, Stopping Sexual Exploitation: A Program for Men was officially launched. The  first class consisted of three participants. This course is also available in a virtual format on an as needed basis. 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.

Bissonnet Track 

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.

Research on Local Sex Trade

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

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

IT-Based Tactics:

Sex Buyer Employment Loss, Identity Disclosure:

Auto Seizure:

Community Service:

Sex Buyer Arrests:

John Schools:

Neighborhood Action, Public Education:

SOAP Orders:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Research, Reports:

State Texas
Type City
Population 2325489
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