Underage sex trafficking is everywhere local law enforcement looks, but will their budgets hold out?
Published: February 8, 2012
Advocates say the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission plays a key role in the anti-trafficking movement, issuing citations for "sexual contact," underage nude dancing, or for having prostitution on premises. According to TABC records Bexar County clubs Sugars, Essence, Endless Music, and the San Antonio Men's Club have all received prostitution complaints within the past decade.
One Houston-area woman, now 26 who wished to be identified as "Grace," found help from Crooks and Embassy of Hope. A runaway at age 9, Grace survived by having sex with adult men who'd in turn feed, shelter, and pay her. By the time she was a teenager, she was being sold in strip club champagne rooms, shady health spas, modeling studios, and massage parlors across Houston and other Texas cities. The pimps flew her and others to Nevada, where they registered as sex workers. "I was always inside. I was never allowed to go outside the studio or club," Grace said. Drugs kept things bearable. One night, while she was in a drug-induced daze, her pimp gave her a large back tattoo ("It was basically a brand he put on some of his other girls"). Once, when she refused to work, a pimp stuck a gun to her temple.
In counseling, she's now a witness in a federal case against six men charged with a litany of federal crimes, including sex trafficking of children, sex trafficking by force, and the transportation and coercion of minors.
Along with adult entertainment, anti-trafficking activists have eyed another target: adult classified advertisements. Last November, when the National Association of Attorneys General gathered in San Antonio for their annual conference, domestic minor sex trafficking was front and center. Washington State Attorney General and NAAG President Rob McKenna stood beside former congresswoman Linda Smith, now president of the anti-trafficking nonprofit Shared Hope International, to promote the group's crusade against sex trafficking. Both decried adult classifieds — particularly of the online variety at Backpage.com, a website for classified ads owned by Village Voice Media Holdings (which includes the Houston Press and Dallas Observer in its stable of 13 weekly papers) — that cover some 500 cities around the world including San Antonio.
Last August, in an open letter signed by more than 40 state attorneys general, the group called Backpage a "hub" for human trafficking, and late last month the coalition pushed for Washington state lawmakers to pass a bill that clamps down on companies that don't demand ID before allowing sex-related ads to be posted online. (Those placing adult ads in the Current's classified pages are required to submit an ID). Backpage has so far declined to do so and has indicated that if passed, the company would challenge the new law, saying it's in violation of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. Most recently, VVM took a serious drubbing from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who last month detailed the grisly case of a 13-year-old Brooklyn girl who investigators say was pimped via Backpage.com. He called the site "a godsend to pimps, allowing customers to order a girl online as if she were pizza."
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