The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have reported that over 300,000 of America’s young population are considered at risk for sexual exploitation. In January each year, advocates, law enforcement agencies, crime stoppers, victims of sex trafficking, prosecutors, recovery organizations and other non-profit groups unite in honor to raise awareness about human trafficking around the nation.
On January 13, 2020 Crime Stoppers of Houston and their law enforcement alliances helped kick off January’s National Human Trafficking Month by warning the public of the danger of criminals prowling throughout the city and preying on innocent and vulnerable young girls and women to force them into human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
Andy Kahan, Director of Crime Stoppers Victim Services, estimated the enormous amount of money that traffickers earn off the human trafficking-sex trade. “It is estimated that human and sex trafficking makes over $150 billions annually in profits,” Kahan said by email.
During the press conference, Andy Kahan switched on an electronic slide presentation to show local news media outlets the wanted photos of the city’s most wanted sex traffickers. “Take a good hard look at these fugitives wanted for human trafficking because we know somebody out there know where they are.” he said.
The names of people listed have been charged with either sex trafficking, promoting prostitution or compelling prostitution:
- Rahsaan Joshua Butler
- Otis Calvin Berry
- Willie James Brumfield
- Imani Jean-Marie Cole
- Mikia Collins
- Kourtney Michelle Dean
- Ashley Espinoza
- Marquis Dominic Holmes
- Davian Samuel Rollins
Each fugitive listed is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Crime Stoppers are offering cash rewards up to $5000 for information leading to the arrest of the nine traffickers. If you have seen or know these traffickers whereabouts, call Houston’s Crime Stoppers at 713-222-8477. Your identity will remain anonymous.
Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery that involves controlling a person through force, fraud or coercion to exploit the victim. Traffickers may recruit, harbor or transport a victim in order to exploit them for labor, sexual exploitation or both. Thousands of teenagers, women and girls as young as 12-14 years old have been forced into sex trafficking prostitution throughout Texas, with the largest numbers of human trafficking activity located throughout Houston’s metropolitan areas.
During the conference, a Houston Police representative said the department will aggressively pursue anyone who pays money to have sex with trafficked victims. Some traffickers prefer children 12-14 years old to sell on to clients who prefer younger children. “16 is too old, they’re getting these babies,” stated Jamie Lynn Gibson, a survivor of sex trafficking, beginning when she was just 14.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger contact the Houston Police Department Vice Division at 713-308-8600 or FBI’s National Human Trafficking Hotline directly at: 1-888-373-7888
Trafficking children and compelling prostitution is rampant, according to Houston Police, citing a University of Texas study which showed Texas alone have had over 100,000 trafficked victims.
Houston, Texas, estimated population of over 2, 325, 502, as of 2018, is the fourth largest city in the United States. Known throughout the nation as H-town, Houston is a big “boom town” city with bright lights, oil rigs, and port authority, plus the Houston Rockets, Astros and Texans football teams. Houston has the distinction of having the first space center, the largest medical facility in the world, and is bordered by the finest museums, ritzy eateries and upscale clubs; yet much of its culture retains a down home “southern flavor”.
But many Houstonians may be shocked to know their beloved city ranks as one of the nation’s worst cities for human trafficking.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) previously issued a damning report indicating Houston is one of the largest hubs for human trafficking not only in Texas but in the United States. To highlight the ongoing epidemic, the report said Houston has over 200 active brothels, with at least two or more brothels opening each month. Strip clubs, discreet bars, massage parlors, posh Hotels, and Mexican cantinas is a hotbed of sex trafficking throughout Houston area.
Andy Kahan’s expert knowledge of human trafficking validates this scourge in H-town. “One of the main hubs is in the greater Houston area at I-59 and Bissonnet,” Kahan said.
DOJ also points out the primary factors contributing to high levels of traffickings in Houston can be easily divided into transportation, demographic, and labor factors. For example, the interstate(I-10) corridor links El Paso and Houston, thus allowing easy transportation of trafficked victims entering the U.S. border from Latin America. Most of these victims (boys included) come from Asia, Central America and Mexico.
Perhaps the biggest contributing factor for this problem is the Texas-Mexico border, a border that is the most frequently crossed international border with approximately 300 million documented crossings by Americans and foreign citizens, annually.
The Houston sex trafficking epidemic is so notoriously widespread that local advocate Elijah Rising founded the Museum of Modern Day Slavery. Rising’s museum is known as the only education center in the world dedicated to fighting human sex trafficking in the 21st century.
The sex trafficking of underage children in Texas attracted the attention of former America’s Most Wanted TV Host John Walsh. In 2017, Walsh aired a special program called “Inside Houston’s Sex Slave Trade” on CNN’s “The Hunt.”
In The Hunt episode, FBI Agent Suzanne Bradley told Walsh, “People see Houston as a hub for human trafficking because of it’s proximity to the border.”
During 2019, Harris County prosecutors in Houston filed 266 human trafficking or promotion of prostitution cases, up from only 106 cases filed three years earlier, according to Houston Public Media.
Separate from state jurisdiction, Federal courts in Texas in 2018 convicted 45 defendants in human trafficking cases. “This is significant,” Harris County elected District Attorney Kim Ogg, said.
The US State Department issues an extensive annual report, the ‘Trafficking in Persons Report’ to document human trafficking. The report discovered an alarming trend of foster care children, teens from chronic unstable homes, homeless youths, children in the U.S. illegally and those with substance abuse problems that were particularly at high risk for falling into human trafficking.
The human trafficking statistics for Texas State are astounding. The Statewide Human Trafficking Mapping Project of Texas estimated that in 2016, more than 300,000 people were victims of human trafficking in the Lone Star State. Of those approximate numbers, 234,000 were adults subjected to labor trafficking, and approximately 79,000 were minors and youths also subjected to sex trafficking.
In efforts to combat the sex trafficking epidemic the Houston Police Department Vice Division has its own human trafficking and criminal investigation unit. Harris County Sheriff Department in Houston also has a criminal investigation bureau that handles undercover investigations related to human trafficking.
Federal Prosecutions and Federal Funds Allocated For Victims’ Services
The conviction rate for prosecutions under the Federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, enacted in 2000, is close to 80 percent, Justice Department data show.
A Fox News report highlights these prosecutions. In 2018, the DOJ initiated 230 federal human trafficking prosecutions, a sharp drop from 282 in 2017. Meanwhile federal convictions rose from 499 in 2017 to 526 in 2018. About 70 percent of the these cases ended with prison terms of over five years, the State Department reported.
In fiscal year 2019, ICE (Homeland Security) initiated 1,024 investigations and the agents arrested 2,197 suspected traffickers, obtaining 1,113 traffickers indicted in federal court out of the 2,197 arrests. Of those same numbers, federal prosecutors won 691 convictions.
ICE investigators rescued 428 identified victims from the investigation, referring them to outreach trafficking services.
The DOJ also provided over $31 million dollars for 45 victim service providers in 2018, organizations that offer services to trafficking survivors across the nation. The funds disbursed in 2018 are a significant increase from the year before where the DOJ only allocated $16 million dollars to 18 organizations.
In many separate states and counties, both state and city wide, law enforcement agencies haven’t prosecuted as many human trafficking cases as the federal government has. Yet, as time, and more overtime funds are allocated for non-federal law enforcement agencies to combat the problem, citizens residing in countywide and municipal cities can be assured that state prosecutions for human trafficking will spike.
“We’re not fully where we need to be, but it’s encouraging to see states pursue these cases,” Myles Bradley told AP News in May 2019. Bradley is the Executive Director of the Polaris Project which is a non-profit group that work in partnership with other organizations and law enforcement agencies to combat modern day slavery and human trafficking.
Documented evidence from law enforcement identified the following top-ten U.S. cities for the human/sex trafficking trade:
- Las Vegas
- Washington D.C.
- Los Angeles
Sex trafficking lawsuits were recently filed in January in Houston against prominent hotel chains by civil lawyer Annie McAdams. Underage female victims were forced by traffickers to sell their bodies to men at these hotels. McAdams filed lawsuits against La Quinta Inn near the affluent Galleria at 1625 West Loop South, Doubletree located at 8181 Airport Boulevard near Hobby Airport and the Comfort Inn at 6687 Southwest Freeway at Westpark.
A spokesperson for the hotel chains denied their employees ignored obvious signs that victims were subjected to forced prostitution while staying in their hotels.
The lawsuits filed against the hotels will serve as a litmus test to determine if commercial real estate owners and franchises can be found liable under the Federal Trafficking Victims Protections Act for failing to stop trafficking activity inside hotels. As of this writing there has been no court judgement rendered against the hotels or hotel chains.
Members of Texas legislature joined the fray to introduce bills to hopefully stem the tide of exploited victims. Texas Senate Bill 498, was written last year and filed on January 29, 2019, by Senators Joan Huffman and Carol Alvarado. Bill 498 was designed to hold landlords, including third-party individuals who sub-lease buildings and real estate owners for failure to stop trafficking on their premises.
Unfortunately, for advocates and law enforcement, the bill made it to the Senate but it didn’t quite pass due to the ending of the legislative session. Once Bill 498 is re-introduced in 2020 advocates say they will push to have it officially passed.
“Property owners and landlords are the key to ending storefront trafficking in Texas,” said Children At Risk Staff Attorney Jamey Carruthers.
Harris County top prosecutor Kim Ogg, speaking in a bold tone similar to the popular lyric of “Don’t Mess With Texas”, issued a direct warning to traffickers. “So if you’re in this (trafficking) business, insisting on trying to exploit the vulnerable, just know we’re coming at you.”
Crime Traveller and Journalist Clarence Walker dedicate this article to National Human Trafficking Awareness Month and to Houston’s Crime Stoppers.
Clarence Walker can be reached at: email@example.com
- Associated Press. (May 26, 2019) States’ Conviction Rates on Human Trafficking Charges Lag Far Behind Feds’. Boston Herald.
- Banks, G. (December 31, 2019) Three National Hotel Chains in Houston Sued for Promoting Sex Trafficking. Houston Chronicle.
- Gonzalez-Pons, K (July 20, 2017) In Texas, So-Called ‘Pro-Life’ Protection Doesn’t Apply to Trafficked Youth. Rewire News.
- Hecker, I (January 13, 2020) Reward Offered for Arrest of 9 Sex Trafficking Fugitives. Fox 26 Houston.
- Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition (August, 2011) Rapid Field Assessment of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking In Harris and Galveston Counties, Texas. United Against Human Trafficking.
- Huffman, P.A. (January 29, 2019) Committee Substitute for S.B. No. 498. A Bill to be Entitled An Act. Texas Legislature Online.
- Human Trafficking Statistics By State Population. (February 03, 2020). World Population Review.
- Insitute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. Statewide Human Trafficking Mapping Project for Texas (2016). University of Texas at Austin. Steve Hicks School of Social Work.
- Keiper, A., and Chiaramonte, P. (June 22, 2019) Human Trafficking in America Among Worst in World: Report. Fox News.
- Marcelo, P. (May 26, 2019) State Prosecutors Struggle with Human Trafficking Cases. AP News.
- National Day Calendar (January, 2020) National Human Trafficking Awareness Day – January 11.
- Patterson, T (May 7, 2018) Inside Houston’s Sex Slave Trade. CNN.
- US Department of State. 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report. Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.