Not only was the operation carried out in a couple of affluent suburbs, the occupations of some of the men arrested fit into realms that understandably raise concerns. On Monday when the arrests were announced, it was noted that one of the men who was busted works as a youth minister. The following day, it was reported that another was a high school football coach, who resigned after his arrest.
The sting operation is the latest bit of evidence that illegal prostitution operations aren’t merely an inner-city concern, and it’s also a reminder that prostitution isn’t a one-sided issue where only “the John” who gets cuffed suffers. The Southlake and Frisco stings did not include prostitutes.
Prostitution operations often use workers being held against their will in what the National Human Trafficking Hotline refers to as “modern slavery.” The hotline is contacted thousands of times each year from Texas to report cases of sex-trafficking.
“There’s a lot of shock that demand for sex exists in more high-income communities,” says Sarah Phillips, director of Rescue Her, a nonprofit organization based in Euless that supports survivors of sex trafficking. “Many people often associate victimization with low-income communities where there’s high levels of vulnerability.”
Vulnerability is perhaps the key way a trafficker victimizes someone. Tirzah Brown, director of human trafficking advocacy group Unbound Now North Texas, says traffickers can find many ways to control their victims. “Anyone can be affected by trafficking, yet we know that vulnerabilities increase someone’s risk of experiencing it,” she wrote in an email to the Observer. “Running away from home, a history of childhood abuse and neglect, and experiencing homelessness are some of the most significant correlating factors for youth.”
Phillips says traffickers also coerce their victims by filling a "desire to belong" in the victim's life that may have resulted from broken relationships with a romantic partner, family members or former friends.
On Jan. 18 the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas announced that a Dallas man, Anthony Johnson, 45, had been sentenced to 25 years in federal prison for running what the statement said was “a brutal sex trafficking ring.”
"Anyone can be affected by trafficking, yet we know that vulnerabilities increase someone’s risk of experiencing it." – Tirzah Brown, Unbound Now North Texastweet this
The press release went on to detail just how horrific his actions were by noting that Johnson “admitted he forced numerous women to engage in commercial sex acts and turn the proceeds over to him. He set 'quotas,' compelled the women to work for hours on end, and brutally beat them with an extension cord when they came up short, ‘disrespected’ him, or did not follow his rules.”
In its most recent totals, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received almost as many tips regarding hotel and motel prostitution operations as it did for illicit spas and massage parlors in 2021. The number of tips received for sex-related trafficking more than quadrupled those received for non-sex-work-related trafficking tips.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota recently filed legislation to reauthorize the Abolish Human Trafficking Act. In place since 2018, the act gives millions of dollars to multiple levels of law enforcement as well as social service agencies to deal with trafficking.
Just how frighteningly easy it can be for someone to be trafficked for sex was illustrated less than a year ago in Dallas when a 15-year-old girl from North Richland Hills was kidnapped from a Dallas Mavericks game after heading to the restroom. She was found a week and a half later in Oklahoma City after she had been sold for sex; nude pictures of her appeared online, serving as advertisement. Eight people were arrested for trafficking in connection with the case.
That case brought a lot of awareness to the issue of human trafficking, which is something Brown says can be beneficial moving forward.
“In general, awareness of trafficking can be a protective factor for people who may otherwise be affected,” Brown wrote. “However, an accurate portrayal of the issue is critically important. Language matters, so as a general rule we try to follow the leadership of survivors in the way we speak about the issue and the words that we choose. Exact numbers of trafficking victims are impossible to attain, but we can deduce from the data we do have as well as the numbers of confirmed survivors that Unbound Now serves each year that it is a concern in our community and that we need to, as a community, provide consistent support to survivors as well as to those who are vulnerable to trafficking.”