Lea County, New Mexico, has a population of roughly 70,000, and is located in southeastern part of the state, near the Texas border closest to Midland and Odessa, TX. The county seat is Lovington, and its largest city is Hobbs (with about half of the county’s population). Prostitution activity has been well-documented throughout the county for decades. For example, in 1947 an appeal filed with the Lea County District Court documents two women who traveled to Hobbs in August, 1946,registered at a local hotel, and informed a taxi driver with whom they were acquainted that they had no funds, and intended to engage in prostitution. They sought his opinion whether it would be safe for them to engage in prostitution in Hobbs, and the driver advised them to remain away from hotels as the officers were on the alert and it would be unsafe. He arranged “dates” with sex buyers and transported them for that purpose. The women received $10 each for each act of sexual intercourse.
The range of crimes generated by the local commercial sex market results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with local prostitution are sex trafficking, child endangerment, and violence committed against people involved in these transactions. For example, in September, 2016, the Lea County Drug Task Force received several complaints in reference to possible prostitution taking place at a spa located in Hobbs. Agents with the Lea County Drug Task Force with the assistance of Homeland Security Investigations conducted an undercover operation involving solicitation for prostitution, and arrested the spa owner. In a case in May, 2017, three men were charged with human trafficking and false imprisonment after a traffic stop in Lea County. The Lea County Sheriff’s Office released a statement about the arrests, which happened on U.S. Highway 62/180 near Mini Ranch Road. The vehicle was stopped for speeding. The driver of the vehicle did not have a valid driver’s license, and an open container of an alcoholic beverage was in plain sight. Two other men were also in the vehicle, along with a juvenile female. An interview with the suspects revealed that they were traveling from Lubbock, TX to Carlsbad, NM to engage in the criminal offense of prostitution, and that the girl was being taken against her will. The men were all charged with human trafficking and false imprisonment.
In addition to prostitution and sex trafficking are documented acts of related violence committed against survivors, including aggravated assault, sexual assault, and homicide. For example, a prostituted woman was murdered in 2010 in Lea County. In June 2017, a 22-year-old woman was battered and strangled by a man after refusing to have sex with another man. The investigation revealed that a pimp attempted to entice the victim to have sexual intercourse with others in exchange for monetary compensation. When the victim refused to have sex with an unknown male who arrived at the location, the pimp became violent, strangling and striking the victim, and refusing to allow her to leave. The disturbance was reported to police who investigated and then arrested the pimp and charged him with Aggravated Battery against a Household Member (3F), False Imprisonment (4 F), Human Trafficking (3F), Promoting Prostitution (4F), and Possession of Marijuana (M).
Efforts to address prostitution and sex trafficking have included the use of tactics to reduce consumer-level demand. At least two reverse stings have been conducted within the county. In 2013, five men were arrested during an undercover operation by Hobbs police. Court documents said that two agents posed as prostitutes and recorded the men trying to buy sex. In 2014, four men were arrested after answering a decoy Craigslist ad placed by the Hobbs Police Department. The men agreed to meet at a hotel, where they were arrested by a police officer upon arrival to the room. The men were taken to Hobbs City Jail, and the men all posted bail and later faced charges in the city court. In both operations, the ’ names and ages of the arrested men were publicly released.
- Lea County Drug Task Force
- Hobbs Police Department
- Hobbs City Jail
- Homeland Security Investigations
Web-based reverse sting, shaming:
Background on Prostitution, Sex Trafficking, Related Homicide:
- https://casetext.com/case/state-v-nuttall-2. (1947)
- http://www.rdrnews.com/archive/?p=148705 (2016)
- https://www.newswest9.com/woman-arrested-following-prostitution-investigation-at-hobbs-massage-parlor (2016)
- https://www.kcbd.com/3-lubbock-men-charged-with-human-trafficking-in-lea-county/ (2017)
- https://www.hobbsnews.com/hpd-arrest-amarillo-residents-prostitution-charges/ (2017)
- https://www.cbs7.com/content/news/19-year-old-Lubbock-man-arrested-in-Hobbs-for-human-trafficking (2017)
- https://www.bigcountryhomepage.com/sheriff-men-forcefully-took-lubbock-girl-to-new-mexico-for-prostitution/ (2017)
- https://www.newswest9.com/woman-arrested-following-prostitution-investigation-at-hobbs-massage-parlor (2018)