Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan today filed a lawsuit to stop the prostitution and human trafficking that pervades an area on Houston’s west side known as the “Bissonnet Track.”
Ryan is asking the court for temporary and permanent injunctions to create the “Bissonnet Anti-Prostitution Zone” and forbid the 86 named defendants-- pimps, johns, and prostitutes-- listed in the lawsuit from entering the Zone or if in the area from engaging in any activities that lead to buying or selling sex or other crimes. If the defendants violate the injunction, they would be in contempt of court and subject to a fine or jail time or both. This type of anti-prostitution injunction is the first filed in Texas.
“For years, the residents and business owners in this area have been under siege due to the large number of people buying and selling sex and committing other crimes on and around the track,” said Ryan. “Despite efforts by the County Attorney’s Office, law enforcement, prosecutors, judges and non-governmental organizations to try to stop the proliferation of prostitution and sex trafficking in this area, the crime has not decreased. Today’s lawsuit is seeking a new tool in this long battle.”
The County Attorney lists 86 defendants in the lawsuit consisting of pimps, johns and prostitutes, —and says they are a public nuisance. Each of these defendants has been arrested in the zone for a prostitution-related crime; many of them have multiple arrests. Several of the defendants are currently charged with aggravated offenses consisting of sex trafficking and aggravated assault.
The lawsuit includes an “opt out” provision that would permit a defendant who has been a victim of sexual assault or human trafficking, to receive social services and opt out of the injunction. The County Attorney’s Office will work with victim’s rights organizations to ensure each defendant receives needed assistance.
The lawsuit points out that more than any other area in Houston, the Bissonnet Track attracts buyers and sellers of sex from all over the country. The Bissonnet Track is listed on international websites as “Houston’s Red Light District.” From January 2016 to July 2018, the Houston Police Department received reports of nearly four thousand crimes in the area, with one-fourth of them related to prostitution. Law enforcement makes many arrests but unfortunately the crime continues. The County Attorney’s Office in the past has sued several motels, smoke shops, restaurants and spas to target prostitution and trafficking in this area.
The “Bissonnet Anti-Prostitution Zone” proposed by the County Attorney covers an area that is generally north and south of Bissonnet from Highway 59 to the Sam Houston Toll Road. Included in this area are apartments, retail businesses, churches, banks and restaurants, as well as an elementary school.
“We have to remember that prostitution is not a victimless crime,” said County Attorney Ryan. “Many women engaged in prostitution have been coerced. Many are brought from other countries and even from small communities around the United States with promises of jobs. We recognize the traumatic effects of sexual assault and human trafficking. That is why we have included an opt-out provision.”
The lawsuit was filed in cooperation with the Houston Police Department and is part of the County Attorney’s Community Protection Program with the Southwest Management District.