McLennan County, TX

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Shaming
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Letters
Cameras
Web stings
License suspension

McLennan County is a county of approximately 235,000 residents, located in central Texas. Waco is the county seat. Prostitution activity, including cases of sex trafficking, has been reported in the county for several decades.

In addition to supporting city-level efforts to reduce prostitution locally, the McClennan County Sheriff’s Department has staged at least two reverse stings from undisclosed locations within the county. Both operations, conducted in March 2015 and February 2016, utilized decoy advertisements on websites known for prostitution. The February 2016 operation, however, targeted individuals offering acts of prostitution in addition to johns attempting to purchase sex acts. Following their arrests, all of the individuals intercepted had their identities publicized in press.

In July, 2017  McLennan County deputies arrested more than 70 men in a series of reverse stings.  January and February of 2018, a county-wide web-based reverse sting in McLennan County resulted in the arrest of 47 men.  The sting was part of a “Johns Suppression Initiative” One of the men arrested had requested to have sex with a child, and drove from San Antonio to do meet who he thought was an 11-year-old girl.  The names of all arrestees were released to news outlets.

As of 2018, john school (Stop Demand School) classes are offered on a monthly basis in McLennan County, and expansion to other sites in Texas was planned for 2019.  Some version of a john school has been operating in Waco since 2008.

In 2018, another shift occurred in how local law enforcement handles prostitution cases: instead of focusing on the source of the problems of prostitution and sex trafficking (consumer-level demand), the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office and local law enforcement agencies are now focusing on reacting to its symptoms (those who respond to consumer demand by exploiting victims).  The shift from prevention to symptom management can be traced to evidence obtained in an investigation in 2017, including video recording of over 400 men engaging in sex acts for cash at two Waco massage parlors.  Only 13 either have been adjudicated or have had prosecution pending on misdemeanor prostitution charges. The seized videos demonstrated the scope of local human trafficking offenses, but the task of  identifying 400 men and building misdemeanor cases that could stand up in court is time-consuming and expensive. So, investigators ultimately shifted focus to rescuing victims and going after traffickers.

In the summer of 2018, for the first time since 2016, the sheriff’s office did not participate in the bi-annual National Johns Suppression Initiative. The nationwide effort focuses on sex buyers, or johns, rather than the prostitutes and has received local and national attention for most of this decade. When it participated, McLennan County consistently ranked in the top 10 among major metropolitan agencies. In McLennan County, most of the arrests for prostitution charges are listed as Class B misdemeanors, punishable by up to 180 days in a county jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Most people arrested on a Class B misdemeanor prostitution charge with no criminal history can get deferred probation.  A Chief Deputy of of the Sheriff’s Office said,

“The john suppression effort is a great effort, but they are primarily all misdemeanors. We’ve proven we can fill our books with misdemeanor arrests that are time consuming to do, but the bottom line is that the people who are making money off sex buying, the ones that are facilitating it, the ones that are bringing people to our country to use in sex acts, those are the people that we cannot lose focus on.

This shift from focus on primary prevention (attacking root cause of human trafficking) in favor of reacting to the trafficking that occurs is in direct opposition to evidence-based practice.  For decades, law enforcement throughout the U.S. had focused on arresting and prosecuting pimps and traffickers, and identifying and rescuing victims.  While those approaches are essential to a comprehensive, balanced effort to address the problem, there is no evidence that supply-side approaches alone have a significant impact on prevalence.  They are inherently reactive, and manage the symptoms, but do not address the cause.  There is substantial evidence that focusing on demand can reduce the scope of the problem – and consequently, lower the economic incentive for sex traffickers and pimps, and reduce the number of victims needed to serve the market.

In January, 2021 McLennan County deputies arrested a man in an online child prostitution sting, and charged him with prostitution of a minor.  According to an arrest affidavit, the suspect responded to an undercover deputy’s online advertisement placed on a website known for human trafficking and prostitution. The deputy offered an adult and a minor to engage in sexual acts in exchange for a fee.  The suspect requested both the minor and the adult, agreed to the fee for both persons.  Deputies said the suspect initially declined the minor, but later changed his mind.  When the man showed up at the motel, he was arrested, and his identity included in press releases.  He was later released on a $10,000 bond.

Key Partners

  • McLennan County Sheriff’s Department
  • UnBound

Key Sources

State Texas
Type County
Population 234906
Location
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