Sex Trafficking in Texas

last updated February 2012

Human trafficking, especially sex trafficking, is prevalent in Texas. The state’s Office of the Attorney General stated that since 2007, there have been over 500 human trafficking investigations in the state.According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Texas accounted for 9% of all human trafficking investigations it opened between 2001 and 2005.
 
Texas’ border with Mexico makes it an international entry point for sex trafficking operations, including those originating from outside of Central America. Smuggling networks often use Mexican and other Central American operatives to smuggle sex workers into the United States through Mexico.
 
Ages of the victims range and include victims in their teens. Prostitution rings have trafficked women as young as thirteen through Texas en route to Florida. The women were held under a $2,000 debt for the transportation and forced to pay it off through prostitution and sexual exploitation.
 
Trafficking rings may lure women using economic opportunities. In 2002, a family was arrested for encouraging 40 young women to enter the United States under false promises of employment. Upon arriving in the United States, these young women were sexually exploited and forced into involuntary servitude. Smugglers will commonly use promises of modeling contracts to lure women into prostitution rings, holding them hostage in part by charging a $40,000 smuggling fee and forcing them to work it off as prostitutes.
 
Active measures have been taken to address human trafficking in Texas. In August 2009, the State established the Human Trafficking Task Force that establishes policies and procedures for addressing human trafficking. The task force reports on the numbers of trafficking victims and convictions, how victims are transported into the state and routes taken, and the factors that create a demand for the services that victims are forced to provide. The taskforce presents its reports to the Legislature and governor, including recommendations on training law enforcement to recognize and handle human trafficking, efforts to combat human trafficking, and ways to increase public awareness and bring offenders to justice.
 
Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children
In June 2010, the Texas Supreme Court released an opinion, In The Matter of B.W., declaring that children under the age of 14 cannot be charged with prostitution. The court reasoned that if child under 14 cannot legally consent to engaging in sexual activity, then that same child cannot consent to selling it. The idea that child “prostitutes” are victims and not criminals is the strong message contained in the opinion. “[T]ransforming a child victim of adult sexual exploitation into a juvenile offender was not the Legislature’s intent,” the Court clearly states. “Children are the victims, not the perpetrators, of child prostitution. Children do not freely choose a life of prostitution, and experts have described in detail the extent to which they are manipulated and controlled by their exploiters.” Explaining that theLegislature has already determined that children under the age of 14 cannot legally consent to sex, the Texas Supreme Court holds that those under 14 are exempt from prostitution laws. "Because [the defendant] cannot consent to sex as a matter of law, we conclude [she] cannot be prosecuted as a prostitute," Judge O'Neill wrote.
 
The Court argues that the State Legislature and global entities have long recognized children’s vulnerability and drafted laws for their protection. For example, the U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of the Childmandates protection of children, defining children as all persons under the age of 18. When the Court examines this case under that protective lens, it states that it is impossible “to find that children under fourteen understand the nature and consequences of their conduct when they agree to commit a sex act for money, or to consider children quasi-criminal offenders guilty of an act that necessarily involves their own sexual exploitation.”
 
The majority opinion argues that this decision will not affect prosecutorial ability or autonomy. “The State has broad power to protect children from sexual exploitation without needing to resort to charging those children with prostitution and branding them offenders.”
 
Texas Trafficking Law 
Trafficking of persons was outlawed in Texas in 2003, under Chapter 20A of the Texas Penal Code. Under Section 20A.02, a person commits a second-degree felony if he “knowingly traffics another person with the intent or knowledge that the trafficked person will engage in  forced labor or services,” or if he intentionally profits from such a venture. If the forced labor involved would constitute a first-degree felony – such as child molestation – then the trafficking crime becomes a separate first-degree felony for which the offender can be separately charged.
 
However, the Houston Restore and Rescue Coalition claimed in 2007 that no prosecutions place under the new law for the first four years. The state’s Office of the Attorney General stated in 2008 that local prosecutors failed to make use of the new law partly because prosecutors believed that the offense should be an automatic first-degree felony in all cases. Thus, where prosecutors had evidence that fit the human trafficking statute, they were instead pursuing traffickers under harsher statutes, making the charge of a specific offense of human trafficking a lower priority.
 
The Office of the Attorney General has suggested that Texas should follow Arizona’s approach by passing civil statutes to deal with human trafficking, such as laws that would allow courts to enjoin human trafficking or force offenders to forfeit their assets and pay large penalties. Another advantage of such statutes would be the lower burden of proof in civil cases. However, Texas has yet to implement any such changes.
 
Federal Trafficking Law
The United States Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) to prohibit trafficking, punish traffickers, and protect victims. Federal statutes governing sex trafficking include 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591, 2421, 2422, and 2423. Section 1591 prohibits traffickers from affecting interstate commerce by recruiting or enticing victims to engage in commercial sex acts. Section 2421 prohibits traffickers from transporting persons over state or international lines to engage in commercial sex acts. Section 2422 prohibits traffickers from using the mail or other means to entice or coerce victims to travel for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts. Lastly, Section 2423 prohibits traffickers from transporting minors across state or federal borders for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts and prohibits persons from traveling to engage in illicit sex acts. A person who violates these laws is subject to criminal penalties ranging from ten years to life in prison. The TVPA was reauthorized in 2003, 2005, and 2008. It expired at the end of 2011, but a new reauthorization of the bill was introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives for the 2011–2012 term.
 
Economic Activity of Women in Texas
In 2006, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research conducted a study titled “The Best and Worst State Economies for Women,” that compared and contrasted women’s economic situations in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Texas ranked 28th among 51 jurisdictions in the Institute’s Earnings and Employment Composite Index, and earned an overall grade of “C.” Texas tied with Florida for 7th in income parity; the Institute found that on average, women make 80.6% as much as men in both states. The Institute found that 58.2% of women in Texas are part of the labor force (37th in the nation), and that 32.3% (29th in the nation) of women in Texas’ labor force are in professional or managerial positions. Women’s frequently lower socioeconomic status makes them more vulnerable to human trafficking. It also may negatively affect women’s access to services provided for survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual assault.