County Attorney Ryan, Children at Risk Collaborate on Human Trafficking Project AWESOME

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan and Children at Risk today announced a collaboration to fight the horrific crime of human trafficking.

Project AWESOME—Attorneys Working to End Sexually-Oriented Massage Establishments—will partner the County Attorney’s Office and Children at Risk with lawyers from the Reed Smith law firm to close down unlicensed massage parlors which often are fronts for prostitution and human trafficking that force women and children who have been trafficked to work as prostitutes.

Reed Smith will provide volunteer lawyers to supplement the work being done by the County Attorney’s Office to shut down these businesses by various means as public nuisances.  Children at Risk has initially identified over 200 unlicensed establishments which will be targeted immediately.

“Fighting human trafficking in Harris County has been one of my top priorities,” said County Attorney Ryan.  “The enslavement of women and children and forcing them to work as prostitutes is just plain evil.  I am so pleased that this collaboration with Children at Risk and Reed Smith will make a significant dent in this horrible crime.”

“These storefront brothels that operate under the guise of legitimate massage are enslaving young women and feeding the demand for human trafficking across Harris County, which is why we are so excited to be the research, policy and data arm of this groundbreaking partnership. Project AWESOME will make a huge difference in the quality of life for Harris County residents,” said Dr. Bob Sanborn, President and CEO of Children at Risk.

“The issue of human trafficking is a global one - but we must attack it locally in order to save lives and restore individual dignity,” said Reed Smith partner Chris Watt.  “Reed Smith has a long history of providing pro bono legal services in connection with some of the most complex, highly-charged issues.  It is our duty as legal professionals to help those who are in need and I am extremely pleased that my firm is supporting Project Awesome in its very important and meaningful work.”

Earlier this week, University of Texas researchers released the results of a study that estimates that 313,000 people in the state are victims of human trafficking, with 79,000 minors and youth as sex workers.  It is a hidden crime that has been difficult to put into numbers until this study.

In addition to the victimization of the trafficked individuals, the illegal massage parlors attract crime to the areas where they are located, which spills out into the nearby communities.

“We are sending a strong message to these illicit operations,” said County Attorney Ryan.  “We will use every means at our disposal to shut you down and stop the trafficking of women and children.”

The Harris County Attorney's Office represents the County, its departments, elected and appointed officials, and employees in all civil matters that involve county business. The Office investigates game rooms, spas and other notorious locations where habitual criminal activity takes place to rid neighborhoods of these nuisances. The County Attorney's Office has utilized the public nuisance statute to shut down or bring into compliance hundreds of businesses. This ongoing effort to clean up our neighborhoods keeps everyone safer and translates into a better quality of life for everyone.

CHILDREN AT RISK is a non-partisan research and advocacy organization dedicated to addressing the root causes of poor public policies affecting children. The mission of CHILDREN AT RISK is to serve as a catalyst for change to improve the quality of life for children through strategic research, public policy analysis, education, collaboration and advocacy.

CHILDREN AT RISK’s Center to End the Trafficking and Exploitation of Children (CETEC) works to end child trafficking and ensure that child victims are recognized as victims and not criminals. Recognizing the complex nature of the problem of trafficking, we work on multiple fronts to end trafficking. CETEC’s efforts include changing laws surrounding all aspects of this issue; reducing demand; providing support, education and idea sharing through our coalition work, summits and database; assisting municipalities fight against these businesses; and engaging businesses who want to help fight trafficking.

REED SMITH LLP is a leading global law firm with more than 1700 attorneys in 26 offices around the world, including Houston.  Founded in 1877, the firm represents leading international businesses, from Fortune 100 corporations to mid-market and emerging enterprises. Its lawyers provide litigation and other dispute resolution services in multi-jurisdictional and other high-stakes matters; deliver regulatory counsel; and execute the full range of strategic domestic and cross-border transactions. In 2016, Reed Smith received The American Lawyer’s Grand Prize for Global Citizenship for its work on behalf of refugees fleeing war in Syria.