Smith County is located in east-central Texas about midway between Dallas, Texas and Shreveport, Louisiana. The county’s population is about 228,000, and nearly half of which reside in its largest city, Tyler (pop. approximately 104,000). Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented in the county. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market is sex trafficking. For example, in July 2018, a Smith County judge found a Tyler man guilty of human trafficking and prostitution charges. The grand jury indictment included charges of human trafficking accomplished through using force, fraud, or coercion to caused the complainant to engage in prostitution.
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. For example, in undercover reverse sting operation was conducted by the Smith County Sheriff’s Office following an investigation that confirmed that prostitutes had been working out of an East Texas rest stop. The evidence gathered prompted a sting operation at the truck rest stop along I-20 at the F.M. 757 exit that led to seven arrests, including three sex buyers. Three women were charged with prostitution, and three male truck drivers were charged with solicitation of a prostitute. The operation was in response to the Sheriff’s Department having received complaints from truck drivers, saying prostitutes were banging on their doors, while they were asleep. Drivers say they’ve been approached at all hours of the day. The sting operation involved 49 officers from seven different area agencies.
In October 2018,a multi-agency law enforcement investigation led to the arrests of nine men suspected of soliciting minors for sex. The Smith County Sheriff’s Office led the two-day operation that involved officials from the Texas Department of Public Safety, Smith County Sheriff’s Office, Tyler and Longview police departments, FBI and ICE. The suspects allegedly went to an undisclosed location after they solicited sex online from undercover investigators posing as minors. In Texas, solicitation of a minor is a felony punishable up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The offense involves asking or soliciting a minor to meet for a sexual act, according to the Texas Penal Code Section. The suspects were booked into the Smith County jail. The names, ages, and bond amounts of those arrested were listed in news releases.
- Smith County Sheriff’s Office
- Tyler Police Department
- Longview Police Department
Web-Based Reverse Sting, Shaming:
- http://www.kltv.com/story/2495189/seven-arrested-in-prostitution-drug-sting/ (2004)
- https://tylerpaper.com/news/local/suspects-arrested-for-soliciting-sex-online-from-undercover-law-enforcement (2018)
- https://www.cbs19.tv/article/news/local/multiple-people-arrested-in-smith-county-for-online-solicitation-of-a-minor (2018)
Background on Local Prostitution and Sex Trafficking:
- https://www.cbs19.tv/article/news/local/smith-county-sex-trafficking-forum-sheds-light-on-issue-in-east-texas (2016)
- https://www.easttexasmatters.com/news/local-news/2-arrested-1-sought-after-smith-county-prostitution-investigation (2017)
- https://tylerpaper.com/news/local/tyler-prostitution-case-reveals-insight-into-modern-day-commercial-sex/ (2017)
- http://www.kltv.com/story/37889258/judge-finds-tyler-man-guilty-of-human-trafficking-prostitution/ (2018)
- https://www.hartsvillevidette.com/crime/tbi-arrests-smith-county-man-on-child-sex-charge/ (2018)