Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan obtained temporary restraining orders against the landlords for a pair of illicit massage businesses in the County’s continuing fight to put a stop to human trafficking and prostitution.
On January 24, 2018, Vince Ryan sued the property owners of 4444 FM 1960 W and 14437 Bammel N. Houston and their tenants, Flushing Spa and 14437 Massage Spa, for harboring prostitution at these unlicensed massage establishments in Northwest Harris County. These locations are well-known by law enforcement for prostitution and investigations into human trafficking.
Since 2014, deputies with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Vice Unit have made dozens of arrests for prostitution at these and other spas in the area.
On Thursday, Judge Daryl Moore of the 333rd Harris County District Court ordered the property owners to close the premises where the illicit spas are operating and prevent them from operating on the property until further order of the Court.
The majority of sex trafficked victims are female and include both domestic individuals and migrants from other countries. Victims of trafficking into prostitution are particularly vulnerable to coercion and abuse, whether physical, sexual, or psychological, from their traffickers. Individuals trafficked into the United States from other countries often fear the possibility of arrest and deportation, which can prevent them from contacting law enforcement.
The top venue for sex trafficking in Houston is illicit massage/spa businesses followed closely by hotel/motel based locations. Illicit massage businesses advertise themselves as legitimate businesses, often located in strip shopping centers, but they derive their clientele and revenue through the provision of commercial sex acts. They often also engage in money laundering, visa and immigration fraud, smuggling and tax evasion. Although they appear to be single storefronts, most of these businesses are controlled as part of larger networks with one to three people owning several businesses at a time.
A recent study published in the Journal of Human Trafficking analyzed the illicit massage/spa business industry in Houston in 2016 and found that there are approximately 2,869 customers per day at these businesses in Houston and that this yields total annual gross revenues of $107 million.
“Widespread prostitution unchecked can drag down an entire community.” said County Attorney Ryan. “In addition to the human toll, prostitution drains our law enforcement resources and costs the taxpayers millions of dollars every year. My office supports the efforts of law enforcement and the outreach organizations that are offering women caught in the web of prostitution a way out of this dangerous life. We will pursue those businesses that turn a blind eye to these crimes occurring on their properties and will shut them down if necessary.”
Links to the lawsuits and temporary restraining orders follow: