HOUSTON – With hundreds of thousands of fans expected in the Bayou City through Monday during the NCAA Final Four, advocates and law enforcement agencies are gearing up for a much darker event.
On an early Friday morning, members of Hope Over Hurt wrote messages of ‘I Love You’ attached to a snack and water before heading into what’s become a well-known area.
“Where we are heading right now is one of the ‘tracks’ that’s known as Bissonnet,” Hope Over Hurt Founder Wendi Turner says.
Just blocks away from a school on the corner of Bissonnet Street and Plainfield Street, traffic stops for young women caught in the sex trades.
Turner adds, “The pimps have never been this prevalent.”
“They’re moving girls in from different area codes to be trafficked. Different cities, different states. We anticipate that to happen during the Final Four,” says the No Trafficking Zone President Jacquelyn Aluotto. “These are events where trafficking will take place.”
Aluotto studies human trafficking, and her coalition of federal and local law enforcement partners launched the No Trafficking Zone at NRG Park.
“It is a very brave thing to let human trafficking specialists into your stadium and to create programs,” she says. “We have undercovers that go into the stadium from the sheriff’s office, their human trafficking unit. And then we have our victim services and our survivor leaders. We have a plan, and a flow chart, and a model that works with security. So that if there is a situation, it can be addressed right away.”
Aluotto admits that human trafficking statistics are high in the Houston area.
“Our numbers have gone up because we’ve gotten so serious about this crime,” she adds. “There are more taskforces, our law enforcement is getting more educated, our communities are being educated and diligent.”
In the first two months of 2023, Houston police officers made 298 arrests dealing with prostitution, purchasing prostitution, and human trafficking.
The arrests occur at all hours of the day and advocates against sex trafficking say law enforcement will continue their stings through Monday.
“Obviously, human trafficking is going to happen in this city. There is going to be a lot of demand, so there will be a supply,” says Alutto. “But I really hope and pray, and believe that our law enforcement agencies, federal and local that are here are very prepared and are being very diligent to keep our community safe as possible.”
In a federal case this week, a suspected pimp was caught telling a 13-year-old victim, “ima show u how to double yo money so by the time u 18-19 u got yo own crib got your own car”
Aluotto tells us, “People fly around the world to work these tracks because they are going to make a lot of money. And when I say that they are not flying alone. They are flying with their pimps and traffickers that control them, and they fly here because they are going to make so much money.”
Turner adds, “These women make $750,000 annually, each one, right? So, how many tricks does that mean?”
During the 2023 Super Bowl, law enforcement in Phoenix made 48 felony arrests, and 300 misdemeanor arrests (120 of them were sex buyers). Plus, five juveniles and one adult victim were rescued.
While looking over and waiting for requests from previous cities, KPRC 2 Investigates found in 2019 during the Minneapolis NCAA Final Four Tournament that 47 people were booked on probable cause felony solicitation of a minor or solicitation of prostitution under 16 years of age. Eleven people were booked on probable cause sex trafficking, and promotion of prostitution. And, 28 victims were rescued from trafficking situations, including one minor.
Here in Houston, it’s important to note that these groups are trained professionals that are going to these high trafficked dangerous areas, knowing these women could get hurt for talking to them.
If anyone is caught in sex trafficking around NRG Park, law enforcement wants to remind people that it’s a felony.
SEE ALSO: KPRC, Houston Area Women’s Center taking calls about domestic violence, human trafficking
29 arrests made in undercover human trafficking bust in Fort Bend County
Houston Newsmakers: The harsh realities of sex and human trafficking