HOUSTON – The Houston Police Department, along with other agencies, held a news conference to announce multiple arrests made in a human trafficking investigation.
According to authorities, the sting started March 19, lasted through March 28 and focused on Fort Bend County and the Katy area.
During the sting, 47 people were arrested and of those, there were 27 woman and 20 men, officials said.
Eight of those people were confirmed victims and another eight were charged with human trafficking-related offenses, authorities said.
The others faced charges including sexual assault of a child, possession of a controlled substance, unlawfully carrying a weapon, tampering with evidence and prostitution, officers said.
Sgt. John Wall, with the Houston Police Department Vice Division, said despite all the arrests, the most rewarding part of the investigation was rescuing two minors, the youngest being 16.
Wall emphasized that human trafficking is happening everywhere and encouraged victims to come forward.
“We are here to help, first and foremost,” Wall said. “We understand the problem of human trafficking. We understand what it does to the victim, how to fix the victim. We understand they are scared to come forward, but we are going to do everything in our power to keep them safe, give them the services they need to move forward in life. And, at the end of the day, we hope we can put the trafficker where he belongs, and that’s in prison.”
Officer Angela Merritt echoed Wall’s sentiment, saying traffickers exploit the victims’ fear of going to authorities.
“It’s important that (the victims) do come forward because the traffickers are taking advantage of (the) fact that they are fearful, they are afraid, they don’t understand the language, but that does not matter,” Merritt said. “They need to come forward so we can investigate those cases.”
Officers said most of the people who become trafficking victims are domestic, and most of the recruiting occurs online, either through social media or other platforms.
“If you think about it, children (and) young adults spend and an enormous amount of time on social media, and they are vulnerable,” Wall said. “They don’t understand the risk involved in talking to individuals they don’t know on that type of forum.”
Authorities said they are going to continue to crack down on human trafficking and want community members to know investigators depend on their help for clues and tips.
Anyone who is a victim of human trafficking or thinks there might be suspicious activity going on in their area is asked to contact the national human trafficking hotline at 1 (888) 373-788 or the HPD Vice Division at 713-308-8600.