Prostitution has been called the world’s oldest profession. As it does with everything, time has sown changes in the sex industry.
While many sex workers still walk the streets, many now conduct their business out of massage parlors. Something the city of Houston is no stranger to.
In fact, a new study released by Texas Christian University political science professor and human trafficking expert Vanessa Bouche finds that Houston massage parlors generate nearly $107 million every year.
Dr. Robert Sanborn, president and CEO of Children At Risk, put it this way: “There’s no doubt that we have more than our fair share here in Houston. There are more of these sexually oriented businesses, these massage parlors, than there are Starbucks in our city.”
The problem, as law enforcement sees it, is that many of these massage parlors go beyond simply being illegal enterprises – they actually serve as human trafficking rings.
Let’s look at how Houston is affected by this illicit yet lucrative practice, as well as the laws and penalties you might face if you’re caught participating in sex trafficking.
How Big Are Illicit Massage Parlors in Houston?
To conduct her study on massage parlors and human trafficking, Bouche read numerous online reviews of sex forums to find 207 illicit massage parlors.
Then, in December 2015, Bouche chose 32 of these parlors to look at more closely. She installed hidden cameras on streets near the parlors’ entrances to collect 24-hour surveillance footage.
Based on this footage, Bouche discovered a number of details:
- Every day, an estimated 2,869 men visit illegal massage parlors in Houston.
- The men spend anywhere from $50 to $100 for the sexual services they receive.
- A majority of these massage parlors are located in strip malls out in the suburbs.
- The busiest time for these massage parlors is between noon and 4 p.m.
- Owners of erotic massage parlors mostly participate in sex trafficking with Asian immigrants.
- The Difficulties Inherent in Policing Illicit Massage Parlors
Although these businesses are common and easy to detect, authorities have a difficult time shutting them down – even with the knowledge that they engage in human trafficking.
In December 2015, the Houston city council passed an ordinance intended to crack down on massage parlors by giving police officers better access to inspect the facilities. The law says that any uniformed officer can inspect a facility that advertises massage services without a warrant or the owner’s consent.
The problem with this law, however, is that many parlors operate beyond the reach of that ordinance in unincorporated areas of Harris County.
When a massage parlor does get busted, the workers – essentially the victims – are often the ones arrested because it can be difficult to identify the true owner.
This issue doesn’t seem to be going away, and with the spotlight now squarely on Houston’s massage parlors, it’s clear that authorities intend to crack down on these businesses to put an end to both the illicit activity and sex trafficking.
In its 2017 session, the Texas Legislature passed two new laws that will have an impact on sexually oriented businesses. First, HB 2552 strengthens anti-human trafficking efforts through stronger enforcement of penalties, better data collections, and awareness training for those in certain industries; and, second, SB 128 requires human trafficking for those applying for commercial driver’s licenses.
Sex Trafficking Laws in Texas
If you find yourself caught up in the crack down on massage parlors and sex trafficking, it’s important to know the laws and penalties associated with the alleged crime.
You can be charged with trafficking of persons if you knowingly
- Traffic another person and, through force, fraud, or coercion, cause the trafficked person to engage in conduct prohibited by prostitution, promotion of prostitution, aggravated promotion of prostitution, or compelling prostitution.
- Receive a benefit from participating in a venture that involves prostitution or engage in sexual conduct with a person trafficked through force, fraud, or coercion.
- Traffic a child and by any means cause the trafficked child to engage in, or become the victim of, conduct prohibited by prostitution, sexual assault, or similar crimes.
- Receive a benefit from participating in a venture that involves an activity described above or engages in sexual conduct with a trafficked child.
Sex trafficking is felony of the second degree, punishable by two to 20 years in prison, unless the offense involves a child. Then, regardless of whether you know the age of the child at the time of the offense, you will be charged with a felony of the first degree, which is punishable by five to 99 years or life in prison.
Fighting Houston Sex Trafficking Charges
If you have been accused of sex trafficking or another sex crime here in Houston, it’s imperative that you contact an experienced Texas sex crimes attorney as soon as possible. Sex offenses are taken seriously and if you want the best chance of beating the charges and fighting for your rights, you will need an aggressive defensive by a knowledgeable and skilled attorney.