Academic journal article Vanderbilt Law Review

Trafficked in Texas: Combatting the Sex-Trafficking Epidemic through Prostitution Law and Sentencing Reform in the Lone Star State 1

Academic journal article Vanderbilt Law Review

Trafficked in Texas: Combatting the Sex-Trafficking Epidemic through Prostitution Law and Sentencing Reform in the Lone Star State 1

Article excerpt

Introduction

In October 2015, one day after her twenty-third birthday, a San Antonio woman named Yvette sat in the Bexar County courtroom facing up to ninety-nine years in prison on charges for exploitation of a minor.2 However, the path that led Yvette to this precarious circumstance began several years earlier and is marked by addiction, abuse, and desperation. Running away from home at the age of fifteen to escape a family member who had been sexually abusing her, Yvette was quickly consumed by a drug addiction; by eighteen, she was dancing at strip clubs to support herself and her habit.3 At the age of twenty-one, Yvette was approached by another woman, along with a sixteen-year-old named Jade, with an offer to enter into the prostitution business. Desperate for cash, she agreed.4

This regretful decision brought her under the power of a pimp named "Red Nose."5 Yvette told the Texas Tribune that upon first meeting Red Nose, he made her feel protected for seemingly the first time in her young life.6 Red Nose, as so commonly occurs in these situations, turned that sense of protection into coercive power, plying Yvette with drugs to keep her awake at all hours seeing clients.7 Red Nose never signed his own name on anything related to his operations- advertisements, motel reservations, etc.-but rather used Yvette's.8 As a result, an undercover agent with the local police force responded to one such online advertisement for Jade, posted under Yvette's name. After learning Jade was a minor, the agent returned Jade to her mother's house.9

Weeks later, after attempting to escape from Red Nose, Yvette was found "viciously beat[en]" in what police officers wrote up as a domestic violence incident: "When officers arrived, they found her covered in bite marks, her face battered and one eye swollen shut."10 Out of fear for the safety of her family, whom Red Nose had threatened, she continued to comply with Red Nose's demands.11 The two were eventually charged with violent robbery,12 which led to their respective trials for both the robbery and the exploitation of Jade, the minor.13 Prosecutors urged Yvette to testify against Red Nose, but at trial, frozen with fear, she was unable to do so; the jury found her guilty on all charges.14 As David Lunan, then head of the sex-trafficking unit for the Bexar County District Attorney's Office, noted: "[Yvette] was victimized, but she graduated from victim to oppressor and exploiter . . . . Her loyalty to [Red Nose] was too strong to even protect herself."15

Yvette's story is representative of the double-edged sword often handed to prosecutors trying prostitution and sex-trafficking cases. In circumstances such as these, it can often be incredibly difficult to distinguish victim from exploiter, particularly when the victim, fearing retaliation, is unwilling or unable to help herself. To prevent victims from being charged as criminals, the Texas legislature, like many other state lawmaking bodies, has enacted aggressive legislation targeting pimps; however, as demonstrated by Yvette's story, the law as it stands does not sufficiently address the violent coercion that so often accompanies prostitution or recognize that defendants in these cases are quite often victims themselves.

Given these legislative hurdles, what alternative avenues might states pursue to aggressively target prostitution and sex trafficking while also deterring the behavior that drives these illegal enterprises? This Note proposes that effective legislative change must bring into its purview stronger criminal consequences for the "johns," or purchasers of illegal sex, and not just the pimps. Further, this Note argues that such changes to a jurisdiction's prostitution laws should aid the state in prosecuting true instances of human trafficking, which by definition include involuntary and coerced prostitution.16 In doing so, this Note hopes to address the glaring absence in Yvette's story, and others like it, of the men who paid, or got paid, to exploit her. …

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