Texas has always maintained a colorful love affair with prostitutes. The Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) informs that as early as 1817 when Texas was still a Spanish province, prostitutes were distributing their wares in San Antonio (known as San Fernando de Bexar). They remained queens of the parlor until they were joined by Anglo prostitutes in the 1840s and 1850s. Galveston has always had the availability of prostitutes since its founding while it took Houston three years after its founding to decry the “towns houses of ill fame,” according to the TSHA.
The TSHA reports that public demand to “run the girls out of town” waned over the years, to the point that “during the late twentieth century prosecution thus remained a significant part of the Texas social landscape, even if less pronounced and less openly accepted than earlier in the century.”
Then prostitution discovered Texas’s vast array of massage parlors. Even some of the state’s educators found massage parlors as a venue to escape the stress of teaching students not receptive to the art of learning.
Massage parlors across the vast badlands of Texas have been making news over the past few months for prostitution and sex trafficking acts. Several owners have been arrested throughout the state, and more are coming – there are 689 suspected illicit massage parlors operating throughout the Lone Star State.
If you own or work at a massage parlor, it is vital that you understand the laws surrounding sex crimes and the penalties you may face if you are charged.
What Is Prostitution According to Texas Law?
Regarding prostitution, the Texas statutes state:
“(a) A person commits an offense if the person knowingly offers or agrees to receive a fee from another to engage in sexual conduct.
(b) A person commits an offense if the person knowingly offers or agrees to pay a fee to another person for the purpose of engaging in sexual conduct with that person or another.”
To be clear, even if the sex act does not happen, the offer is enough to put you in jail.
A massage parlor owner from Richmond Hills was recently arrested for prostitution in such a case. She was caught when an undercover officer went in for a massage and she offered a sex act at the end of the massage. He did not take the offer, but fees were negotiated.
Prostitution is a class B misdemeanor in Texas. The charges will be increased to a class A misdemeanor or state jail felony if the defendant has been convicted of prostitution before.
What Is Sex Trafficking According to Texas Law?
A class B misdemeanor comes with serious penalties, but the charges for sex trafficking are much more harsh. Human trafficking occurs when a person “traffics another person with the intent that the trafficked person engage in forced labor or services.” (“Traffics” is another word for “moves.”)
This charge is a second degree felony. If the trafficking occurs for a period that spans over 30 days, the charges are increased to a first degree felony. Convicted persons may have to face between 25 and 99 years in prison.
In May, a handful of massage parlors throughout the state were busted for prostitution and human trafficking. Thirteen arrests led to charges, including aggravated promotion of prostitution. The investigation is still going on, but law enforcement believes there are clear signs of human trafficking throughout the massage parlor chain.
These are serious crimes, and remember, there are almost 700 businesses in Texas that could face similar charges and arrests if investigators have their way.
The Role of Reviews in Tracking Illegal Massage Parlor Acts
How does law enforcement begin to suspect a massage parlor of prostitution?
In some cases, customer reviews may be the first clue. The 689 businesses we mentioned above are being considered due to online data.
How does this work? Sometimes, users may leave a review or comment online saying that they were offered a sex act after their massage. The spa in Richmond Hills had reviews of this nature that went back to 2013.
If you recently acquired a massage parlor or currently own one, check the reviews online. Even if reviews are questionable or very dated, you might still raise red flags with law enforcement officials.
Don’t Simply Take the Penalty for a Charge and Move On
Even one count of prostitution can have a big impact on your life and business. Luckily, a charge is not a conviction. Fight back against your charges and you may be able to avoid penalties altogether. Reach out to a lawyer for more information about how to defend yourself or your massage parlor against prostitution charges.
Common defense strategies for prostitution or trafficking charges include:
- There was no receipt or exchange of currency for the sex act
- No one was forced to complete any labor
- The charges are based on a false accusation from an unreliable witness
- Sexual conduct was not intended or involved in the incident
Appropriate strategies will vary based on the alleged incident, any witnesses to the incident, and the charges against you.