Houston 101

Houston to Launch "Public Shaming Campaign" Against Johns

Police Chief Art Acevedo and HPD will "expose [johns] for the sick person that you are," he says.
Police Chief Art Acevedo and HPD will "expose [johns] for the sick person that you are," he says. Meagan Flynn
Johns seeking to pay for sex in seedy motels should probably give that decision a second thought as the Super Bowl approaches. Because heads of local law enforcement agencies warned Thursday that they would be launching a "public shaming campaign" against anyone arrested for soliciting prostitution.

In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl and beyond, local and federal law enforcement pledged to continue cracking down on pimps, human trafficking organizations and lowly johns buying into it. This will include undercover vice officers pretending to be prostitutes or buyers, thorough surfing of the Internet to find sex ads, and then, yes, the crown jewel: public shaming.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said he plans to blast out the mugshots and names of every John, Dick and Harry arrested for buying sex as a way to deter johns from calling up prostitutes. (It appears the idea of innocent until proven guilty does not apply to this specific crime in Houston.)

"For the johns coming into this city, we're putting you on notice today," Acevedo said. "We are gonna have undercover officers. We're gonna have people who look different, because we know that people doing these things have a lot of freaky vices. You might be thinking you're looking for a little girl or little boy, or a young woman, and what you might be finding is a police officer ready to arrest you. When we arrest you, we will expose you for the sick person that you are, and we will plaster your face in the community so people know the content of your character."

Information and mugshots of people who appear to be victims of sex trafficking, however, will not be released, police said. Acevedo said officers will instead work to rescue victims (they still get arrested) and connect them with services through the diversion court, where charges may ultimately be dismissed.

Officials at the press conference Thursday appeared hesitant to forecast an alarming uptick in sex work bound to descend on Houston during the Super Bowl, which, as we've reported, many politicians and law enforcement heads have done before past Super Bowls, despite having no data. In fact, even Mayor Sylvester Turner's special advisor on human trafficking, Minal Patel Davis, wrote in the city's human-trafficking educational materials that the idea that the Super Bowl is "the single largest sex trafficking incident in the U.S" is a myth. She wrote that the media has claimed that "anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 sex slaves arrive in a host city," though really, public officials are likely the ones who fed the media this information in the form of juicy sound bytes.

Take the 2011 Super Bowl held in Arlington, for example: A Dallas police sergeant had told the Dallas Morning News that an astonishing 50,000 to 100,000 prostitutes would be descending on the city — hysteria backed by then-Attorney General Greg Abbott. Yet police managed just 105 arrests in the metro area that year — with 12 of those being the equivalent of traffic tickets and only two for human trafficking, a felony.

When asked for data on whether Houston would, in fact, see an uptick in sex trafficking, Houston officials thankfully refrained from inventing such alarming numbers. Davis instead referred reporters to a study by Carnegie Melon University, in which researchers examined increases in online escort and sex ads during 33 large sporting or entertainment events, including four Super Bowls. In each Super Bowl host city, online sex advertisements numbered 129 to 573 ads higher than would normally be expected, while "new-to-town" escort ads from out-of-towners increased by just 16 to 91 more than normal.

So while we perhaps should not be expecting tens of thousands of hookers to secretly take over Houston during the upcoming Super Bowl, Acevedo said the crackdown and shaming of johns will continue indefinitely. What you can perhaps expect instead is an endless stream of shameful mugshots.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn