HOUSTON – In just the past two years, Houston police have made 3,478 prostitution-related arrests.
While no part of town is immune, some neighborhoods are hit particularly hard by prostitution and the other problems that follow, including drugs, robbery and violence.
Only on Click2Houston will you find an interactive database of all prostitution-related arrests made in Houston in the past two years at the bottom of this story.
By far, the No. 1 spot for prostitution arrests is Bissonnet Street, along a 1.3-mile stretch between the Southwest Freeway and Beltway 8. A whopping 589 arrests were made on this street alone, and that doesn’t include the side streets.
KPRC Channel 2 News talked with a small business owner whose office sits directly on Bissonnet Street. She didn’t want her face shown on camera because her constant complaints to police about prostitution have earned a pair of gunshots through her front windows. She said she suspects one of the nearby pimps did it. Luckily, no one was inside at the time of the shooting.
“Most of the time, they’re right in everybody’s parking lot,” she said, adding that they leave behind “baby wipes and remaining condoms.”
Houston police acknowledged their uphill challenge in curbing this type of illegal activity.
“If we arrest one prostitute, the next day she is back out on the street, or we’ll have another prostitute taking her spot,” said Houston Police Department Vice Division Capt. James Dale.
The district attorney’s office is taking a different approach to how it deals with these types of crimes.
“Over the years, we have sort of figured out that it really doesn’t do a lot of good to just continuously arrest these women who are often victims of their circumstances or of traffickers, punishing them as criminals for something that is more or less a morality crime and a public safety issue, and public health issue just doesn’t seem to fit,” says JoAnne Musick, the division chief of the Sex Crimes Unit.
Musick said prosecutors are now focusing on prosecuting the johns who are purchasing the sex, as it's “easier to cut down the demand than to continuously attack the supply.”
For women arrested on prostitution charges, there is also a possibility of ending up in Safe Court, which the city runs as a diversion program.
Safe Court focuses on rebuilding shattered lives rather than on punitive measures. Women can earn a GED in Safe Court and get access to health care. Space is limited to just 27 women.
Houston isn’t alone in this fight. Harris County logged 446 arrests since 2016. In the county, prostitution leans more towards strip center spas than street corners.
New tactics to curb prostitution revealed
Police and prosecutors are trying a different approach to the age-old problem.
To attack these so-called hot spots, police and prosecutors have shifted their focus; realizing there are two sides to this problem—those who sell sex and those who buy it.
“Traditionally your prostitution focused on the woman as the offender, the person selling sex. Now we focus on the John,” Musick said.
In the last two years, Houston police arrested nearly 1,500 so-called Johns.
“It’s easier to cut down the demand than continuously attack the supply,” Musick said.
Another shift in focus involves the organized crime aspect of prostitution; the human traffickers and pimps.
Houston police logged 181 of these arrests in two years.
Dale says the pimps and traffickers are the reason HPD now offers prostitutes a life-line after they are arrested.
Both Dale and Musick say these new approaches were inspired after seeing constant prostitute roundups had little impact.
The goal now is to get these women off the streets permanently.
“We don’t want to see them end up with criminal convictions, so we are looking at diversion opportunities for them,” Musick said.
Below you can search the streets around where you live and work to see if prostitution is becoming a problem in your neighborhood.
Here are the top five spots for prostitution-related arrests in Houston: