From January 15 to February 1, 37 police agencies across 17 states engaged in a coordinated effort to set up people (typically men) who were using the internet to try to engage in prostitution. Although 570 people were arrested across the country, 114 of them were in Harris county, Texas.
Police primarily placed false ads on backpage.com posing as female prostitutes looking for men who would pay for sex. A small percentage of the prostitution set ups were initiated on craigslist.com. The typical scenario involved a female officer meeting with the “john” and arresting the person when they made an actual offer or agreement to pay for sex.
Texas law allows a “john” or a prostitute to be prosecuted for prostitution when they have simply made an offer to engage in sexual conduct for a fee or if they simply agree to pay a fee to engage in sexual conduct for a fee. Sexual conduct includes customary sexual intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, or even sexual contact to genitalia by hand. The actual act does not have to occur for the crime to be committed.
According to news reports, the vast majority of the men arrested had no significant criminal record and very few had prior prostitution charges. In addition to the 570 arrests, the initiative led to over 220 cars being towed, many jobs lost, and likely many marriages ended. News reports did not reveal the amount of cost to the tax base for the hundreds of hours of law enforcement time devoted to the plot.
In many of these cases, female officers resort to promises of sexual performance to men for extremely cheap fees. These high pressure tactics can lead to a person being enticed to commit the offense even if they would not normally do it. Law enforcement practices usually involve video and audio recording of these set ups. As these cases go to court, the justice system will see if officers took the same care to preserve important evidence even though they were trying to make a high volume of arrests. These law enforcement tactics must be closely scrutinized by defense lawyers in order to maintain the integrity of law enforcement. Unfortunately, even in the many prostitution cases that will be dismissed, the victims of these aggressive police tactics will already have had their photos released to the media, careers ended, marriages ended, and hundreds of thousands of dollars that would have gone into the economy will be spent on prostitution lawyers, court costs, fines, towing expenses, and bail bonds.
If you are one of the victims of these over the top police tactics or if you know someone who was set up by the police, make sure an experienced prostitution defense attorney examines the case closely. An arrest does not mean a person is guilty.