Group works to end sex trafficking in Houston
Published: Friday, April 20, 2012
Updated: Friday, April 20, 2012 02:04
Houston has more strip clubs and illicit sex stores that serve as fronts for sex trafficking venues than Las Vegas, according to freeourcity.org. Though Rice University is nestled between the museum district and the Texas Medical Center, the campus also neighbors massage parlors and spas that force their women workers to give “happy endings.”
These women are sex slaves, exploited in exchange for passage into the United States. The Rice Freedom Project, an anti-human trafficking group on campus, aims to help stop human trafficking in Houston.
The Rice Freedom Project was founded by Will Rice College senior Gaby Garton, Wiess College sophomore Yidan Wang, Will Rice freshman Ashley Phillips, McMurtry College sophomore Jordan McCray and graduate student Kim Reichel. The project aims to raise awareness about human trafficking and connect students with outside anti-human trafficking organizations.
“We all look back now in disbelief at how long slavery went on in our nation's history, complaining that not enough people rose up in protest against the atrocity,” Garton said. “Now slavery is on the rise again, but we have the opportunity to fight it.”
Houston has become a hub for sex trafficking because of its diverse population, location along transnational highway I-10, and accessibility as an international air-and-sea port. The human trafficking... industry in Houston has been covered by media outlets from the Houston Chronicle to “Texas Monthly.” Earlier this year, Free Press Houston publicly accused the Houston Press for allowing questionable and possibly exploitative sex-oriented businesses to advertise their services on the Backpage of the magazine.
The Rice Freedom Project’s first campus initiative was to assist Free the Captives, a Houston-based evangelical and anti-human trafficking organization, in phase two of its “Reduce the Demand Campaign.” The aim of the campaign is to garner community awareness and put pressure on public officials to enforce the anti-trafficking laws by arresting more clients. The goal of the second phase of the campaign was to send 30,000 anti-human trafficking letters signed by Houstonians to Texas Governor Rick Perry. These letters, of which Rice contributed 450, urged Perry to pressure government officials and law enforcement alike to enforce anti-human trafficking laws that were enacted a year and a half ago. The letters specifically urge Perry to pressure Houston Mayor Annise Parker, District Attorney Pat Lykos, Chief of Police Charles McClelland, Jr. and Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia to prioritize pursuing, arresting and prosecuting buyers.
“In the last year and a half, only two buyers have been arrested in Houston,” the Free the Captives letter template read.
For a city that has 200 known brothels operating behind the facades of spas or massage parlors, this statistic is horrible,” said Martel College sophomore Naomi Wong, who helped Garton with the distribution of the letters to the north colleges.
“As someone who has been assaulted in a sexual manner, I care very much that no woman, man or child ever has to deal with that and that the people who do such things should be locked away,” said Wong.
In addition to participating in the Reducing the Demand Campaign, last Friday the Rice Freedom Project sold T-shirts at its “End Slavery in Houston” event held in the central quad. The proceeds went to Redeemed Ministries, a local anti-human trafficking organization which will use the money to help transition liberated trafficking victims to their new lives.
“The money will be going to the Sparrow Endowment, which supports the costs of ‘aftercare’ for former sex trafficking victims including transitional housing, counseling and educational programs to help the victims get back on their feet and readjust to life as free members of society,” Garton said.
On Saturday, the project hosted a free showing of the human trafficking documentary “Sex and Money.” After the showing, the project held an open-panel discussion with Rice professors Caleb McDaniel and Kerry Ward and representatives from local anti-trafficking organizations Free the Captives, Redeemed Ministries, Not for Sale and Exodus.
The project’s new endeavor is to participate in the thir phase of Free the Captives’ Reduce the Demand campaign. This phase, entitled “Keys to Freedom,” directly focuses this effort on addressing Parker, Lykos and McClelland. In this phase, the public is encouraged to write personalized letters to the three officials about the importance of arresting Houston clients in the sex trade, and to send an accompanying key with each letter. The key sends the message that the officials have the “key” to end sex trafficking and slavery in Houston by increasing their efforts to take the clients off the streets.