A Call to End Houston’s Bad Reputation

By Julie Waters, director and founder, Free the Captives, a Houston-based anti-human trafficking organization, for the Houston Chronicle on June 14, 2013—

622x350“Houston has the great privilege of hosting the Super Bowl in 2017, but with that comes the great responsibility of combatting the inevitable spike in sex trafficking.

Just as during the Offshore Technology Conference in May, whenever large numbers of people gather, there is an increase in the sex trade. Why? Because there are men who want to buy sex. And because of these men, traffickers will recruit young girls into the sex trade to meet the demand.

Houston will continue to be a sex trafficking hub as long as society tolerates the buying of sex. Sex trafficking and prostitution are intrinsically linked. They are not the same, but they are very much connected.

The average age of entry into the sex trade is between 12 to 14 years old. If you see a 32-year-old woman involved in prostitution, chances are she was lured into the sex trade as a young girl.

Traffickers are seeking girls who have been sexually abused at a young age. Their targets typically have no dependable father figure; they have low self-esteem; they run away from home often and usually come from dysfunctional homes. No gun is needed to force this girl into trafficking; the trafficker can simply ply her with a few cheap trinkets and words of affection. It is important to remember, however, that if a minor is involved, this is a federal crime.

Changing societal attitudes is not a hopeless, uphill battle. We can change. And we have already started.

In partnership with Free the Captives, Sheriff Adrian Garcia has made it very clear that buyers would not be tolerated in Harris County. His department arrested 12 Johns in one day during the Offshore Technology Conference. Houston Police, meanwhile, arrested 31 Johns from April 26 to May 10. District Attorney Mike Anderson is aggressively prosecuting the buyers as well. These government officials understand the role that the Johns are playing in sex trafficking.

Together, we can protect our children from sex trafficking. First, we need to view the buying of sex as unacceptable. Second, get involved. Free the Captives needs volunteers to spread awareness, work with trafficked teens and at-risk youth and fight the demand for commercial sex.

We do not want to be known as a hub for sex trafficking, nor as a city that tolerates men who buy sex. We want Houston to be known as a great place to live and work. Let’s change the way we view buying sex and make our city safe for our children.”

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