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January 28, 2021
Human Trafficking Victims and Alleged Sex Workers Dismissed from Anti-prostitution Lawsuit in Houston

Today, the Harris County Attorney’s Office (HCAO) dismissed 36 alleged sex workers from the County’s “Bissonnet Track” anti-prostitution lawsuit. Some of these alleged sex workers have also been confirmed to be human trafficking victimsCounty Attorney Christian D. Menefee expressed that a civil lawsuit against sex workers is not the answer to decreasing illegal activities in the Southwest Houston area, and only further harms vulnerable people. 

In August 2018, the Harris County Attorney’s Office—under the previous administration and on behalf of Harris County—initiated the case seeking a civil injunction against more than 85 persons. These individuals are accused of directing, engaging in, or soliciting sex work in a section of Southwest Houston known for prostitution.  None of the individuals the HCAO dismissed today are accused of being traffickers.

In the lawsuit, the County proposed an “anti-prostitution zone” and asked the court to ban the defendants (including the alleged sex workers) from a wide range of legal activities, including waiting at a bus stop, bicycling, using a cell phone, or in some instances simply being physically present in the zone. If the defendants failed to comply with the injunction, they risked being subjected to fines or jail time, despite this case being a civil—and not a criminal—proceeding. 

Menefee released the following statement regarding the dismissal of the alleged sex workers from the lawsuit:

“Our region is a hub for human trafficking, so it’s important that government prioritize fighting to end these crimes while at the same time protecting victims. This lawsuit did not achieve those goals. It proved to be ineffective and the proposed injunction would likely create another layer of harm for victims.  

We’re sensitive to the concerns of families living near the area in Southwest Houston. The obvious exploitation that occurs there is a problem, and my office will continue to explore partnerships with community groups and other government agencies to identify effective solutions to human trafficking in our County. But we will not target victims, and using a civil injunction to unfairly and unjustly backdoor sex workers into the justice system is not the answer.”

The dismissal of this case represents a first step in the work Menefee has committed to doing for the people of Harris County and the betterment of civil order. Menefee pledged to be a voice for the people, standing up for vulnerable communities and using civil actions to ensure our rights are protected and expanded.

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