HOUSTON – The day Texas’s new law regarding solicitation of prostitution went into effect, Houston police ran a sting operation in an area known as the “Bissonnet Track.”
The commander of HPD’s vice division, Jessica Anderson, said 13 so-called “Johns” were arrested. She said she now hopes word will get around that buying sex is no longer just a slap on the wrist.
“Since then, we’ve done additional operations and we’ve seen a lot fewer buyers, so we’re hopeful that initial enforcement operation sent the message,” said Anderson.
On Sept. 1, Texas became the first state to make paying for sex a felony. Anderson believes tougher penalties will help target what is fueling the sex trade.
“I think the state does recognize that this is not a consensual thing, that this is one person buying another human,” said Anderson. “I felt that previously the laws kind of treated this as a transactional thing where it was just two people consenting to what the state felt was a crime.”
Going after buyers is not new for HPD. According to a database, of 1,863 prostitution-related arrests filed over the last two-and-a-half years, 56% involved women, and 43% were men. The difference now is that buyers can face felony punishment.
Anderson said targeting demand will also hopefully decrease the supply in parts of town where prostitution has taken root. HPD records show 37% of prostitution arrests were in southwest Houston, and most of those were in the “Bissonnet Track,” which encompasses areas along Bissonnet from the Southwest Freeway to the Sam Houston parkway.
The area is so notorious there are videos on YouTube highlighting prostitution and it is also mentioned in Wikipedia’s list of “Red Light” districts. Chair of the Super Neighborhood Alliance, Juan Sorto, said when prostitution becomes embedded in an area, it affects the quality of life for those who live and work in these neighborhoods.
“All you’re exposed to, for the most part, is crime and violence and there’s not a lot of the opportunities out there,” said Sorto.
According to HPD’s data, other parts of Houston experiencing long-term problems from prostitution are in southeast Houston, primarily along the Gulf Freeway near Airport Blvd and the northside, primarily in areas off 45 North around Airline Drive.
Both Anderson and Sorto said education needs to happen in tandem with punishment. They both hope stronger penalties for buyers will help signal that prostitution is not a victimless crime because many prostitutes are not on the street by choice.
“People are not commodities and we can’t allow the crime to indicate that we’re ok with that,” said Anderson.