Tyler, 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

Tyler is a city of approximately 107,000 residents located in Smith County, in eastern Texas. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity has been well-documented in the city and greater county areas. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates result 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 cause the complainant to engage in prostitution.

Efforts to combat prostitution and sex trafficking activity has included those focused on reducing demand for commercial sex by targeting sex buyers and sex traffickers. For example, in September 2017, three men were arrested by Tyler Police detectives who had discovered an underground prostitution enterprise occurring within Tyler hotels. Detectives successfully infiltrated the operation after a 17-year-old girl called 911 to report she had been brought to Tyler against her will by three men from Fort Worth. In addition, the three-month investigation revealed that the men were also planning the same fate for a 13-year old girl from Fort Worth. The sex traffickers exploited the women by posting commercial sex advertisements on Backpage.com and sex buyers would meet the women at a local hotel. The women being trafficked were performing commercial sex acts that ranged from $35 to $100 per hour with all of the money being given to their sex traffickers. Detectives conducted forensic investigations on the six phones used in the operation. Detectives stated that the entire enterprise was being orchestrated through smartphone apps and internet sites and trafficked women used an app that provided anonymity for users, making it more difficult for law enforcement agencies to track the numbers and identities of sex buyers,

“The days of red-light districts and finding a prostitute on the street corner are pretty much gone. Most of these crimes are taking place online with cell phone apps and ads that are posted to webpages like Backpage.com.”

In addition, detectives tracked the movements of the three men, in and out of the hotel as well as through the phone conversations they were able to retrieve by reviewing surveillance camera footage and receipts from the hotel. Reports listed the names, photos, and charges of arrested men. This information linked the three men to four sex trafficking victims, two 17-year-old girls, one 22-year-old woman, and one 36-year-old woman. Police linked an additional phone number to a commercial sex buyer residing in East Texas, which happened to be a man detectives had observed on a surveillance video that depicted the sex buyer going into one of the suspect’s rooms at the hotel. The buyer confessed to detectives that he responded to the victim through a Backpage.com advertisement and was able to describe the victim from the advertisement. He also told police he agreed to pay $60 for a 10-minute sexual act. Since Backpage.com was the most frequent way of soliciting prostitution online in East Texas, Tyler Police Detectives closely monitored the site during this time,

“There are usually about 20 ads on the page on any given weekend. Most of the people are from out of town and they only stay from three to five days. This helps them avoid detection. The longer they stay the more susceptible they are to being caught.”

Tyler Police detectives explained that creating tougher legislation and more allocated resources would make it easier to prosecute these crimes. While police say the issue of prostitution is not new to East Texas, the level of conversation about the problem has reached a more public and inclusive dialogue. All three men were convicted and sentenced in early 2018. One of the men will serve life in federal prison after being convicted of helping run a sex trafficking ring exploiting underage girls. A second man was convicted of sex trafficking-related counts and was sentenced to life in prison, and the third man was convicted of sex-trafficking was sentenced to a 35-year term.

In May of 2021, a two-day online undercover sting targeting people allegedly soliciting prostituted persons in Smith County resulted in the arrest of eight men on charges of prostitution. The operation was coordinated by the following state, county, and local agencies:

  • Texas Department of Public Safety Criminal Investigations Division special agents
  • Smith County Sheriff’s Office
  • Tyler Police Department,
  • The Department of Homeland Security
  • The Smith County Criminal District Attorney’s Office

Smith County Officials reported grave concern regarding the amount of sex trafficking occurring within the county as online services are rapidly rising, despite the increase in undercover stings to raise awareness about prostitution and deter individuals from attempting to buy sexual services from trafficking victim in Smith County and the state of Texas. Officials reported,

“Over the last several years, sex traffickers have moved their criminal enterprise online, soliciting prostitution via ads on various websites and apps. These traffickers coerce vulnerable individuals into becoming trafficking victims. Ultimately, the demand for prostitution fuels the traffickers’ endeavors.”

All eight men were arrested on charges of prostitution, a Class B Misdemeanor in the state of Texas punishable by up to 180 days in jail, a fine of as much as $2,000, or both.

In January, 2023, four East Texas men from Tyler, Whitehouse and Flint were arrested in Tyler for allegedly attempting to solicit paid sexual abuse from what they thought were underage girls, but were actually undercover agents with the attorney general’s office.The account operating under the name “Sarah” was in reality a sergeant with the Office of the Attorney General who was conducting an online investigation. The identities of the sex buyers were included in news reports.

Key Partners

  • Tyler Police Department
  • Texas Department of Public Safety Criminal Investigations Division special agents
  • Smith County Sheriff’s Office
  • Tyler Police Department,
  • The Department of Homeland Security
  • The Smith County Criminal District Attorney’s Office
  • Voices of East Texas
  • Mary Lineham & UT Tyler
  • Nacogdoches Police Department
  • Longview Police Department
  • The Haven of Love
State Texas
Type City
Population 107192
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