A new Texas law will make buying sex a state felony instead of a misdemeanor. The new law takes effect September 1 and is part of a sweeping piece of legislation aimed at further cracking down on human trafficking.
“We know the demand is the driving force behind human trafficking,” said State Rep. Senfronia Thompson/(D) District 141, primary author of the bill. “If we can curb or stamp out the demand end of it, then when can save the lives of numerous persons.”
According to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Thompson’s bill makes Texas the first in the country to charge so-called “Johns” with a state jail felony. A second conviction under this law would enhance the charge to a third-degree felony.
Victim advocates have long argued there was an imbalance in the way our criminal justice system dealt with the crime of prostitution.
“It can be that we’re existing in a criminal justice system that sees survivors more than their traffickers or the buyers,” said Aly Jacobs, director of counseling and advocacy at the Houston Area Women’s Center.
Thompson also says many prostitutes are victims of human trafficking who are forced into the sex trade. She said those who are rescued need intense help.
“You’re going to have to give them some kind of therapy, some kind of mental health treatment. You’re going to have to get them in a position to where they can go and get a job,” said Thompson.
A University of Texas study shows taxpayers spend roughly $6.6 billion a year dealing with the consequences of sex trafficking of minors. Houston police vice division, Lt. A. Merritt, said years ago the department began targeting buyers as much as sellers and is hopeful tougher penalties will finally make an impact.
“It’s going to hold those buyers more accountable in order for us to do what we need to do to solve the issue,” said Merritt. “Not only will that jeopardize their livelihood, but that’s also going to jeopardize their freedom as well as their reputation.”
House Bill 1540 passed the House and Senate in May and was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June. Among several other measures, the bill also enhances penalties for those who try to recruit victims from shelters and certain residential treatment facilities.