Texas authorities have flexed their legal muscles against prostitution in Houston over the past year. Take a look at some of the largest Harris County prostitution sting operations of 2017, and why local authorities are cracking down on related crimes.
#1: Super Bowl LI
In February 2017, at least 249 people were arrested on prostitution charges during a 10-day sting during “Super Bowl 51” in Harris County. Individuals arrested and taken into custody included a retired police sergeant, an employee of the City of Houston, Houston Fire Department members, and Houston ISD member:
- 183 potential buyers (“johns”) were arrested
- 9 sex traffickers were arrested
- Most of those arrested were either johns (those wanting to pay for sex) or prostitutes offering sex for money:
- One of the people arrested admitted to marketing sex services for money as a pimp.
- One man was arrested with his four-year-old in tow.
- A pastor in The Woodlands was accused of a prostitution crime.
- A DPS trooper was charged with a prostitution crime.
- Two traffickers were accused of pimping a 14-year-old girl.
The Vice Unit of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office conducted a sting operation in concert with eight hotels earlier this year. Arrests included 1) a convicted sex offender, 2) an individual possessing 60 grams of hydrocodone drug and almost $4,400 in cash, 3) an individual previously arrested in January 2017, 4) two individuals with handguns, and 5) an individual with more than $6,700 in cash on his person was arrested.
#2: Northern Harris County Sting Operation
A two-week long sting operation in northern Harris County resulted in the arrest of at least 40 individuals along the FM 1960 and Interstate 45 Corridor. This area has been dubbed “a haven of prostitution.” Four women reported they were human trafficking victims:
- Thirty-eight of the 40 arrests involved prostitution and prostitution-related charges.
- Twenty-five johns were arrested.
- Some individuals face dual charges, such as narcotics possession and outstanding warrants.
Precinct 4 undercover agents sought to reduce the numbers of prostitutes and sex buyers in the area. Dozens of arrests involved prostitution and solicitation of prostitution charges. Five alleged pimps were arrested and charged with felony promotion of prostitution. One individual, a convicted felon, had a firearm on his person. He attempted to dispose of the firearm and was also charged with evidence-tampering.
#3: October 2 – October 13, 2017 Sting Operation
The Houston Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office of Harris County, and Children at Risk worked together on a sting operation in an area known to have significant past illicit sex trade:
- The sting focused on the “7 Star Spa.” Prostitution arrests in the area stem back to 2007.
- Prospective sex buyers were met by undercover officers and escorted to private massage rooms. They were charged a $60 “door fee.”
- The johns eventually offered to buy sex. They paid $120 each.
One of the johns was a member of the HPD. He was immediately placed on restrictive duty. He said he plans to plead guilty because he regrets his actions.
Photos of the accused johns were released to the media. The HPD says its efforts are to deter others from participating in illegal sex trade practices.
A TSA tech employed by Homeland Security Investigations (working with FEMA) and a Sheldon Independent School District teacher were charged with solicitation of prostitution crimes. Administrators of Sheldon ISD were made aware of the police investigation. For that reason, the teacher was put on paid administrative leave.
Harris County Wants to Arrest and Prosecute Sex Buyers
State and national authorities have signaled their harsh stance against human trafficking and sex buyers. If you have been accused of a prostitution related crime in Houston, you need an experienced prostitution lawyer as soon as possible.
Solicitation of prostitution is a crime (Class B misdemeanor), punishable by up to six months in jail and $2,000 in fines.
National Johns Suppression Initiative
Across the United States, up to 522 johns and sex traffickers were arrested during the same period. Extensive sting operations in 14 states involved 23 different law enforcement agencies as part of the National Johns Suppression Initiative. Law enforcement rescued more than 70 adult and three juvenile human trafficking victims.
A second sting operation occurred from June 28 – July 31, 2017. Thirty-seven law enforcement agencies in 17 states worked together to arrest would-be sex purchasers and human traffickers. Houston sheriff’s deputies arrested at least 161 sex buyers.
An additional 71 arrests were made in Waco, TX under the National Johns Suppression Initiative during the same period.
Harris County Sheriff, Ed Gonzalez, said that demand for sex services hasn’t declined. He and other local and state officials have vowed to arrest and prosecute more johns. New state grants will be used to rehabilitate the victims of human trafficking. As a result, fewer prostitutes will face jail time.
Houston Prostitution Cases in 2016
Last year, the District Attorney’s Office reports it prosecuted approximately 1,400 sellers (prostitutes) and 700 buyers (johns).
Harris County has vowed to pursue and prosecute more buyers of sex. In 2017, more than 700 cases have been brought against johns versus 600 cases against prostitutes. The District Attorney Chief (of the misdemeanor division) Nathan Beedle stated that the county’s intention is to arrest and prosecute human traffickers rather than targeting the prostitutes.
Houston wants to shed its distinction as the sex trafficking capital of the United States. The Houston Area Women’s Center will benefit from the newly announced $4.4 million in grant funds to support victims and survivors of human trafficking.
Texas Prostitution Crimes
As above, law enforcement officers and others frequently engage in sting operations that target specific establishments, such as escort services, clubs, massage outlets, or swingers clubs.
Texas prostitution law distinguishes between:
- The individual offering sex for compensation (prostitute)
- The individual soliciting the services of the prostitute (john)
- The individual promoting the prostitute (pimp or madam)
Prostitution Penalties under Texas Law
The Texas prostitution statute, Texas Penal Code Ann. Section 43.02(a) says that an individual commits the offense of prostitution if he or she “knowingly” 1) offers, agrees, or engages in sexual activity for a fee, or 2) solicits another person in a public place in order to engage with him or her in sex for a fee.
Solicitation of Prostitution in a Public Place
When it’s alleged that an individual committed prostitution by knowingly soliciting another individual in a public place for the purposes of sexual conduct for compensation, the offense may be charged as a Class B misdemeanor. [Texas Penal Code Ann. Section 43.02(a)(2)]
Depending on the case specifics, a place may be considered public or not-public, depending on the public’s ability to access the area when the alleged crime occurred.
Texas law [Texas Penal Code Ann. § 1.07(a)(40)] defines public place as a location to which a substantial portion of the public may have access, including but not limited to hotels, office buildings, retail shops or establishments, apartment buildings, hospitals, schools (e.g. colleges and universities), streets or highways, or transport facilities (e.g. bus stations, train stations, or airports).
Solicitation of Prostitution in Texas
Texas Penal Code Section 43.03 says the solicitation of prostitution is a criminal offense. The law applies to the john, not the prostitute (the person engaging in sex for hire).
Promotion of Prostitution and Aggravated Promotion of Prostitution in Texas
Texas Penal Code Ann.§ 43.04(a) defines a prostitution enterprise or business as a “design” or “plan” or “undertaking” in which at least two people agree, offer, and engage in offering sexual activities for compensation. An individual may be accused of aggravated promotion of prostitution if he or she 1) “knowingly” agrees, offers, or engages in these acts, 2) supervises, owns, controls, invests in, or finances a prostitution business, and 3) the prostitution business fronts at least two prostitutes.
Contact an Experienced Houston Prostitution Lawyer to Fight Solicitation Charges
If you have been charged with soliciting a prostitute or with prostitution-related charges, you need an experienced prostitution attorney right away. The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp represents defendants in prostitution cases in Houston and Harris County. Contact Mr. Sharp at 713-868-6100 to schedule an initial case evaluation now.