Free the Captives Presents Research Confirming Houston as a Major City for Sex Trafficking and Prostitution, Caused by High Demand from Buyers
HOUSTON (September 26, 2014) — Free the Captives, an anti-human trafficking nonprofit in Houston, released a study that presents research confirming that Houston is a major hub for sex trafficking and commercial sex, which is caused by very high demand from buyers. From March 17, 2014 to June 7, 2014, Free the Captives’ research team daily logged onto Houston’s Backpage website. During this period, they found 25,950 advertisements for commercial sex in Houston, representing a total of 3830 distinctive phone numbers and 271 distinct area codes.
According to Free the Captives’ study, this large number of ads indicates that there is high demand for sex in Houston by buyers. Women and girls, from all over the US, were found on Houston’s Backpage. The majority of them came from the Houston area, but after Houston, many of them came from the Dallas/Fort Worth area, Las Vegas, Miami, and Los Angeles. There were women and girls in Houston from every state in the US except for Vermont and New Hampshire.
“Houston had an overwhelmingly large number of ads when compared to other cities,” explained Julie Waters, director of Free the Captives. “Not all of these ads involved sex trafficking, but we do know for certain that teenagers are being trafficked online. Sex trafficking is about supply and demand. Traffickers are bringing victims to Houston because of the high demand for commercial sex from buyers. To effectively fight sex trafficking, not only must the traffickers be prosecuted, but the buyers as well.”
According to Free the Captives’ study, Houston had 59% more unique phone numbers listed in ads per 100,000 people per day than Manhattan and 329% more than North Jersey. Free the Captives’ research partner, Imagine Foundation, had completed a five month study of Backpage ads in Manhattan and North Jersey during the time surrounding Super Bowl 2014. The number of unique phone numbers indicates the minimum number of trafficking victims and prostituted women on Backpage.com. Free the Captives’ findings reveal that Houston has significantly more prostitutes and trafficking victims than either Manhattan or North Jersey.
According to Free the Captives’ research, each ad listed the areas of Houston that were served. The most frequently mentioned highways and areas of Houston in the 25,000+ ads included: I-10, Beltway 8, Westheimer, Richmond, Gessner, the Galleria, Hobby Airport, and Baytown.
Within the photographs of these advertisements, 65% showed faces of the women and girls and 35% did not show faces. When a high number of photographs obscure faces in an area suspected to have trafficking that increases the likelihood that sex trafficking exists.
“A great deal of human trafficking is happening online. Our research shows that Houston is indeed one of the top cities in the US for sex trafficking because of the high demand from buyers,” said Julie Waters. “We have worked with teenaged girls that have been trafficked on Backpage.com. They have been through horrific abuse at the hands of traffickers and buyers. Both parties, as well as the companies that facilitate trafficking, must be held accountable for their roles in sex trafficking.”
Free the Captives conducted this research project in collaboration with the Imagine Foundation. Free the Captives’ report can be downloaded below.
For questions regarding the study, email firstname.lastname@example.org.