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What Online Sex Trafficking Ads Say About Houston

A study finds Houston leads the nation in fueling online sex trafficking

Experts say Houston’s size, ethnic diversity and port location contributes to the thriving sex trade.

Attorney Julie Waters speaking at podium
Attorney Julie Waters is founder of Free the Captives

But a new study also found that it outpaces Manhattan and New Jersey combined in online sex trafficking ads.

Attorney Julie Waters is founder of Free the Captives, an anti-trafficking organization here in Houston. An analysis she did, found that nearly 30,000 ads were posted on BackPage.com.

“Houston on an average day, had 65% more ads that Manhattan, and 347% more ads than North Jersey. So this clearly shows, that we are a major city for trafficking and prostitution,” said Waters.

Not every ad on BackPage is for sex trafficking. But Waters found that traffickers use the web page as a main vehicle to traffic teenagers and women here and abroad.

She says a high number of Houston ads were posted on Tuesdays compared to other days of the week. That indicates sex traffickers are targeting business travelers who fly into the city.

“When we looked at areas of Houston, the Galleria was mentioned the most, followed by Hobby Airport, that really correlates to business travelers coming in and out of Houston, Baytown, Katy, the Woodlands, and then Reliant Stadium, the Medical Center and Alief,” said Waters.

The ads showed the most frequently mentioned location in Houston was Interstate 10, which the Department of Justice calls a major human trafficking corridor.

Waters says the large supply in Houston is being fueled by demand.

Law enforcement is hoping to reduce that demand by going after the buyers as well as the victims and traffickers.

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