HOUSTON — Authorities said many of the women arrested Tuesday in a human-trafficking bust in Kingwood are likely victims.
Many are asking why they were arrested if they are victims themselves.
“They’ve been brainwashed, they’ve been threatened, they’ve been physically abused,” said Houston Police Department Sergeant John Wall in Tuesday's press conference.
34 of the 79 arrests were women charged with prostitution.
KHOU 11 has blurred the faces of the women’s mugshots because of the chance they might be victims.
“Certainly we know there are women who choose a life of prostitution, but more often than not, and this is the big deal, women are prostituted," said Crime Stoppers CEO Rania Mankarious.
“Right now it goes without saying, if you’re under 17 and you’re being sold in any way you are a trafficking victim, no question,” Mankarious said. “What gets confusing is when you’re above that age, are you a prostitute or are you prostituted?”
Mankarious said it’s up to a district attorney to decide if a prostitution suspect is actually a sex-trafficking victim.
If so, the case is sealed and the charges are dropped.
Trafficking experts said many times the victims are unwilling to cooperate with investigators.
“’It’s going to be better,’ 'You won’t have to do this much longer,’” are things pimps tell their victims, according to Aly Jacobs, Houston Area Women’s Center director of counseling. “And this often leads to this cyclical repetition of ‘it’s just one more time’ or you have to meet these demands with regards to money.”
Jacobs has spent the last 15 years helping to rehabilitate women in the Houston area who have been trafficked.
“Being convicted as a criminal is one barrier to obtaining housing, to getting a job, of getting that economic justice as a survivor,” Jacobs said.
Arresting and charging the women with prostitution is the best way to extract them from their dangerous situations, officials said Tuesday after the sting.
Some say other methods may be better than arrests.
“The label of being a prostitute comes with a lot of shame, that they are to blame and that they did something wrong,” Jacobs said. “When the reality of it is, they’re not to blame and it wasn’t their fault.”
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