City of Houston Begins a Dance with the Devil to Fight Human Trafficking
Houston, Texas has long been regarded as the nation's hub of human trafficking. Police organizations across the county have long been engaged in a variety of efforts to fight human trafficking in Harris County. Now, it seems, Mayor Annise Parker may be making a deal where she must dance with the devil in creating a new tool to fight human trafficking - strip clubs! Yes, strip clubs in Houston will now be engaged in fighting human trafficking.
According to an article this week in the Houston Chronicle, the city of Houston has reached an agreement with 16 topless strip clubs that will halt the city's enforcement of a "three foot rule" and allow dancers to be fully topless in exchange for a $1 million donation to help combat human trafficking. Prior to Mayor Parker's announcement on the day before Thanksgiving, dancers had to wear latex pasties and maintain a three foot distance from their customers.
The agreement, which will now move to city council for approval, puts an end to a series of lawsuits that have been in place since the city passed its sexually oriented business ordinance in 1997.
Interestingly some of these sixteen clubs have allegedly been deeply involved in human trafficking. It will be interesting to see if this can truly have any impact on human trafficking in Houston.
The Texas Attorney General's Office has also been heavily engaged in fighting human trafficking for many years and has been widely covered by TexasGOPVote.com. In September, Attorney General Greg Abbott announced a Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force. At that time he said, "As our experience has demonstrated, human trafficking can only be stopped through the coordinated efforts of many organizations at all levels – local, state and federal as well as public and private. One of the most effective ways we have found to make a difference is through training."
Training in human trafficking is a part of the agreement with Houston's 16 topless clubs effected by this agreement. The agreement only applies to clubs that were in operation prior to the 1997 city ordinance.
As the Attorney General's office will continue to play a key role in fighting human trafficking, not just in the sex industry but in construction and hospitality as well. I asked Railroad Commission Chairman and Attorney General Candidate Barry Smitherman about this huge issue.
"Well, it’s a terrible crime," Smitherman replied. "Any time anyone is forced to do something against their will, that is not only morally wrong, but it is against our laws. And so we need to focus in on that as well. It can’t be tolerated. Trafficking of humans, whether it’s sex trade or otherwise, is a despicable crime. It often involves underage people, or people that are the most vulnerable in our society, so we can’t let that go."
Smitherman committed to drilling down into this issue in an interview that will be conducted in December.
Somehow, Mayor Parker seems to think that by taking a $1 million per year "donation" (tribute?) from strip clubs, that in some cases have allegedly been directly involved in human trafficking, will help solve this problem. Yes, human trafficking awareness training is one of the requirements in this agreement, but it seems like we are asking the fox to guard the henhouse once again.
The funds from the strip club "donation" will be used to fund a newly created human trafficking investigative unit within the Houston Police Department. It will be interesting to watch where this money gets spent and if it will truly impact human trafficking in Houston.