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Taking Human Traffickers To Court

The Harris County Attorney's office and a local nonprofit are teaming up against local human trafficking operations. According to the Justice Department, 1 out of every 4 victims is brought through Harris County before being sent to other parts of the country. The County says shutting down the operations isn't easy, so they're hoping to use another tool — lawsuits.



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“Has there been any fires started at one of these massage parlors?”

“Not since I’ve been involved in this group that I’m aware of.”

In a downtown Houston conference room, local attorneys listen to various members of law enforcement  talk about human trafficking. They say many of the victims are made to work in massage parlors that are really fronts for prostitution.

RJ Hazeltine-Shed is with the nonprofit group Children at Risk, which co-sponsored the forum.

“The victims come from every walk of life: they’re children, they’re adults, every race, every ethnicity, every socioeconomic background.”

Hazeltine-Shed says cracking human trafficking rings is difficult. Many times the victims who are brought from other countries don’t give their real identities. Officers go undercover and often make arrests for prostitution, but he says that doesn’t really solve the problem.

“And so you may have a prostitution bust which doesn’t then get to a buyer of the services or the trafficker and so you need a broader level of investigation to really get to the source of this problem.”

And that’s where the lawsuit comes in to play. The hope is that more attorneys will help file lawsuits against the owners of the  property where these illegal businesses operate.

“So for instance, a sexually oriented business on 1960. It doesn’t have a license. It’s a massage parlor and it’s a front for trafficking. That activity can constituent a nuisance to the public around it.  That nuisance that it constitutes can be enjoined by a court and stopped.”

Karyl White heads a legal advisory board and was one of the attorney’s attending the meeting.

“I haven’t really gotten a background in human trafficking, so I wanted to come here and pick up some knowledge.”

“What will you do with that?”

“I just think I’ll be a better legal advisory board member, broader scope.”

As with many problems, the solution to this one takes money. The county doesn’t have the funding to pay private attorneys for taking these businesses to court, so they’re  hoping the lawyers will do it for free.

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