A new attack on human trafficking

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan announced a new effort to combat businesses serving as fronts for prostitution and human trafficking. Ryan said this new plan will allow the county to shut down these businesses faster than past efforts.

“There are more illicit sexually oriented businesses in our town than there are Starbucks and we need to be ashamed of that,” said Dr. Bob Sanborn with Children at Risk.

Typically, shutting down so-called massage parlors and spas is a lengthy process that takes undercover work, numerous arrests and a cumbersome civil process.

“This takes months or a year, depending on what's going on,” said Capt. Dan Harris with the Houston Police Department’s vice division.

Ryan said the new plan is to go after businesses advertising massage services that don't have a state license. Texas requires businesses offering massage services to have a state license.

“Merely by being unlicensed, we can shut them down,” said Ryan.

Ryan said shutting these businesses down faster helps law enforcement get a handle on the hundreds of businesses that serve as fronts for prostitution and human trafficking.

“Often they're underage, often they have no choice but to continue to do this if they want to survive,” said Ryan.

Ryan's Office has already identified 25 businesses that will be told to immediately shut down or face a lawsuit, forcing them to close. There are plans to go after an additional 175 businesses in the coming months.

Law enforcement is also going after the demand for commercial sex. In the last 20 days, the Harris County Sheriff's Office has arrested 187 so-called Johns. Police will also be out in force during Super Bowl, which will greatly increase the demand for the women and children being sold by pimps and traffickers.

“This isn't a Super Bowl only type of effort, this is something that has to happen every day of the year because the demand exists in Houston every day of the year,” said Sanborn.

Ryan's office said they'll also be going after landlords who rent to the owners of the businesses. At first landlords will be asked to evict their tenants or terminate their lease. Ryan said if a landlord doesn’t help, then that person could also face legal trouble.

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