Photo: Claire Goodman / Staff Writer
Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middleton has a message for sex-traffickers: “Anybody who is engaged in human trafficking, we are going to find you, and in our pursuit of justice, we will be relentless.”
A four-day sting operation in Fort Bend County has resulted in the arrests of 46 men on charges related to prostitution. “Operation Patriot,” a massive joint effort among 23 local agencies, targeted buyers and sellers of sex crimes. Five adult female victims were rescued at the scene.
Operation Patriot occurred over two separate missions. The first mission took place in Missouri City between Sept. 9 and Sept. 11, according to Claire Andresen, Fort Bend County assistant district attorney and lead prosecutor for sex crimes against children.
Law enforcement officers raided two houses in Missouri City, rescuing five victims and arresting five alleged perpetrators of promotion of prostitution, more commonly called “pimps.”
The second mission took place from Sept. 22-23 in Stafford when authorities converged on a hotel. Authorities arrested 32 men, commonly called “johns,” who were allegedly in the hotel to purchase sex.
The remaining arrests were for drug-related charges, Andresen said.
Khara Breeden, CEO of Texas Forensic Nurse Examiners, noted that the victims were living in deplorable conditions.
“Many times these victims are forced to live in sub-par conditions, and a lack of basic essentials for normal health,” Breeden said. “They are also at risk for sexually transmitted infections, which if left untreated can cause a myriad of long term health issues.”
The arrests were focused on disrupting the sale of sex on a broad scope by targeting both buyers and sellers of sex.
“What we find is that if you only eliminate the supply side (of sex trafficking) other organizations will step in to fill that demand,” Andresen said. “We simultaneously targeted both the organizations behind the sex trafficking and the people who support it to more effectively eradicate this vile criminal activity.”
The collaborative agency effort involved law enforcement, government, civilian and non-profit organizations working together. Kevin Lilly, chairman of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission noted that each agency played an important role in the sting.
“People ask, ‘Why did TABC get involved?’” Lilly said. “That is because, of the four primary venues of human trafficking, three of them fall within the TABC jurisdiction: bars, hotels and restaurants.”
Sgt. Antonio Garcia with the Houston Police Department called human trafficking “modern-day slavery” and urged the public to be aware of the issue.
“Although Operation Patriot was a success, I feel it’s important for me to let the public know that trafficking can happen anywhere,” Garcia said. “It can happen at any time. This is an ongoing battle.”
Agencies involved in Operation were the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance, the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office, Department of Family and Protective Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Public Safety, DeliverFund, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office, Fort Bend County Precinct 1 Constable’s Office, Fort Bend County Precinct 2 Constable’s Office, Fort Bend County Precinct 3 Constable’s Office, Galveston County District Attorney’s Office, Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Harris County Precinct 5 Constable’s Office, Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Houston Police Department, Missouri City Police Department, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, Office of the Texas Attorney General, Stafford Police Department, the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission, Texas Forensic Nurse Examiners and YMCA-International.