HOUSTON (FOX 26) - The Super Bowl is days from kick off right here in Houston. Unfortunately, big sporting events often bring big problems with human trafficking. What's being done to fight it? Well, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan is saying, 'not in my town.' He’s launching a new effort that's the first of its kind in the country.
He released a whole list of companies that Ryan says are run by criminals who are making money using sex slaves. ”Often they're under age. Often they have no choice but to continue to do this if they want to survive. Clearly they're unlicensed massage parlors. That is not legal,”.
”There are over 300 of these illicit massage parlors. There are more illicit sexually oriented businesses in our town than there are Starbucks and we need to be ashamed of that,” adds Dr. Bob Sanborn with Children At Risk. The county attorney is working with the non-profit Children at Risk to identify the alleged bogus businesses that are often in plazas operating in plain sight as police work constantly to shut them down.
”We've been combining our resources and we still cannot keep up with the number of illicit massage establishments, not to mention men's clubs, bars etcetera,” says Captain Dan Harris with the Houston Police Department Vice Squad. So instead of spending months on undercover operations the county attorney has launched Project A.W.E.S.O.M.E., Attorneys Working to End Sexually Oriented Massage Establishments. Lawyers from Reed Smith Law Firm are volunteering to locate landlords of these illegal businesses, ultimately finding the massage parlor owners and suing them in court.
”Really it's about showing a court this business is in the habit of operating contrary to the law,” explains Julie Countiss Assistant County Attorney.
The plan is to hit the owners in the pocketbook with legal fees, fines and eventually causing the company to fold. ”This is another tool in the toolbox to try and address this,” adds Ryan. Ryan says landlords of these plazas should take a close look at who's renting and if the company isn't licensed don't do business with them. “Businesses (plaza landlords) be on the lookout for these types of establishments. If they're on this list I would encourage you to call them up and ask them if they're licensed and if not you probably need to kick them out,” explains Harris County Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen.
In the last couple weeks the Harris County Sheriff's Office has arrested nearly 200 men attempting to buy sex. "I just want to let the Johns, the purchasers, know we're out there and we're hunting them. The last seven operations we've had in the last 20 days we've actually arrested 184 Johns,” says Major T. A. Navarre with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
This stepped up effort will continue, I'm told, even after Super Bowl has come and gone. The University of Texas released a study this week saying on any given day 79,000 youngsters under age 25 are being trafficked. ”This culture of feeling like it's ok to buy these young girls, this needs to stop in our town not just today not just next week but forever,” says Dr. Sanborn.