The last line is telling: “Deputies are still investigating whether the women were being held against their will as part of a bigger human trafficking operation.” The women were arrested first, and questions about human trafficking came later. Notice that there’s no mention in the article of the owner of the property, the managers of the business, or the money – all those important things that could answer questions about trafficking.
This is where law enforcement and the anti-trafficking movement are out of sync. After decades of anti-prostitution work, it’s hard to adjust the law enforcement mindset from treating the women in these situations as criminals to treating them as victims. By contrast, the anti-trafficking movement focuses on helping the victims and stopping the traffickers. Arresting the potential victims is not the same as helping them.
To be clear, I’m not blaming law enforcement. The choice to arrest potential victims may come out of a desire to do good – to get them out of the situation first, then determine the details, to take them to a safe place and get them the help they need there. The problem with that is that jail is not a safe place, much as we all wish it could be.
Courtney’s House and other anti-trafficking organizations want to work with law enforcement to stop the traffickers and help the trafficked.
We want to help trafficking survivors get the help they need without having to go to jail first.
We want to help law enforcement identify traffickers and buyers in order to interrupt the flow of money and stop the industry in its tracks.
To that end, Courtney’s House works with law enforcement agencies around the country to train officers on what to look for, how to interview, and what steps to take when dealing with situations of sex trafficking. As a survivor-run organization, we can help officers see the process from the survivors’ perspective. That way, we can work together with law enforcement to get survivors the help they need from beginning to end.
While I applaud the intention of the Houston PD in making this bust, I urge them to shift focus to the bigger picture. Let’s work together toward stopping the criminals and helping the victims.
Director of Operations