In today's modern age, many people like to think that sex work or prostitution is a choice. We glamorize sex work in movies like Pretty Woman, where the beautiful young woman has just found a creative, empowering way to make money. Then as Julia Roberts and Richard Gere ride off into the sunset for their “happily ever after,” we don't even think about the women, men, and children who are never “rescued” from the streets. This romanticized view of prostitution as a career choice leaves behind the vulnerable people who are forced into sex work in Texas every day. So, what happens if you're arrested for prostitution, but someone compelled or forced you to take sex for money?
Prostitution and Sex Trafficking
In reality, much of prostitution involves vulnerable people who are sex trafficked by those who prey upon them. Many prostitutes are victims of human trafficking, where a third person forces children, men, and women to perform sexual acts with others for money. The University of Texas researchers estimate that 313,000 people are trafficked in Texas at any time. This number includes 79,000 children and young people who are victims of sex trafficking. In fact, many estimate that up to one-third of people who are victims of sex trafficking are children. The people who are most vulnerable to sex trafficking are children and young adults who have run away from home or have drug problems. But other risk factors include recent relocation or immigration, mental health problems, and children dislocated or in the foster care system.
Pimp or Sex Trafficker?
It's important to realize that when someone compels you to have sex with others for money in any way, this is sex trafficking. Not everyone sex trafficked is kidnapped from a foreign country, smuggled in, and forced to have sex at gunpoint. In fact, few people are. Many people who are sex trafficked may be gradually compelled into prostitution. They start out dancing at strip clubs or working in massage parlors. Over time, traffickers use economic coercion and abuse, threats and emotional abuse, physical abuse, isolation from family and friends, and threats to harm family and friends to force vulnerable people to cooperate.
Sex traffickers often don't fit stereotypes either. They can be local businesspeople; gang members; individuals; restaurant, bar, or club owners; parents or family members of victims; owners of farms; corporate executives; government representatives; and intimate partners of victims.
Laws Against Human Trafficking
Both Texas and federal law prohibit human trafficking. Federal law defines human trafficking as using force, fraud, or coercion to compel another into labor or commercial sex acts against their will. If someone brings you across state lines for prostitution, they can face serious federal human trafficking charges under the Mann Act, also once known as the White Slave Trade Act. Legislators passed the White Slave Trade Act more than 100 years ago to make it illegal “to engage in interstate commerce of any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.”
While the original purpose of the White Slave Trade Act was to cut down on “immoral activity,” Congress has since modified the statute, making it illegal to transport someone across state lines for prostitution or other illegal acts. 18 U.S.C. §§ 2421 – 2424 (2015). Illegal acts under the Mann Act include:
- Transporting a prostitute,
- Promoting prostitution across state lines,
- Coercion and enticement for prostitution, and
- Transporting minors for prostitution.
The sections of the Mann Act regarding transporting a prostitute and coercion and enticement may apply to anyone who compelled you to engage in prostitution if they brought you into Texas from another state.
- Transporting a Prostitute If someone transported you into Texas from another state for prostitution or transported you from Texas to another state, it is a felony under federal law. A conviction is punishable by up to ten years in prison. The law states: Whoever knowingly transports any individual in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or Possession of the United States, with intent that such individual engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both. 18 U.S.C. § 2421 (2018).
- Coercion and Enticement Even if the person soliciting you didn't physically transport you across state lines, it's not a defense. Enticing or coercing someone to travel across state lines for illegal sexual activity is also a crime under federal law. Whoever knowingly persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any individual to travel in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or Possession of the United States, to engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both. 18 U.S.C. § 2023 (2008). Felony coercion or enticement charges are punishable by up to 20 years in prison. While federal laws and prosecutions often take precedence over state prosecutions, under the Mann Act, the Texas Attorney General can ask the Department of Justice to allow Texas to cross-prosecute any violations of federal law under Texas state law. So, the person compelling or coercing you can face charges under federal and state law and jail time in both the state and federal systems.
Prostitution Laws in Texas
While transporting someone across state lines for prostitution violates federal human trafficking laws, prostitution itself is a state crime. Texas has some severe penalties for prostitution convictions, but typically those who solicit prostitution or coerce others to engage in prostitution will face stiffer penalties. While a first offense for prostitution is a misdemeanor in Texas, soliciting prostitution is a felony.
- Prostitution Prostitution, or accepting money for sexual acts, is typically a Class B misdemeanor for a first or second offense. Texas law defines prostitution as: A person commits an offense if the person knowingly offers or agrees to receive a fee from another to engage in sexual conduct. Tex. Crim. Code § 43.02 (2019). A first or second offense is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. A third prostitution offense is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine. However, a fourth or subsequent prostitution offense is a state jail felony. A conviction can result in 180 days to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
- Compelling Prostitution In Texas, it is illegal to compel or force someone else into prostitution. Texas law states: A person commits an offense if the person knowingly: (1) causes another by force, threat, coercion, or fraud to commit prostitution; or (2) causes by any means a child younger than 18 years to commit prostitution, regardless of whether the actor knows the age of the child at the time of the offense. Tex. Crim. Code § 43.05 (2019). Compelling prostitution in Texas is a first-degree felony. A conviction is punishable by five to 99 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Even if a sex trafficker receives a conviction and punishment under federal or state law, that may provide little solace for their victims. But if someone compelled you to engage in prostitution, it may be a valid defense to a prostitution charge in Texas. An expert in criminal defense law, well-versed in handling prostitution cases, like attorney Doug Murphy, can examine your case and explain your best defense options.
You Need an Expert in Criminal Defense Law
If you're facing prostitution charges in Texas, remember that you are innocent until proven guilty. The consequences of a conviction can be serious, but if you were compelled, forced, or threatened to participate, you might have a valid defense under Texas law. It's time to bring in an expert in criminal defense law like attorney Doug Murphy. Attorney Doug Murphy is an expert in Criminal Defense Law and DWI Defense in Texas, with Board Certifications in both these specialty areas of the law. In fact, Doug is one of only two attorneys with both these credentials in Texas.
Doug is also well-regarded among his peers in the Houston legal community, having served as a past president and on the board of directors for the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association. He's also served with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, receiving many of the organization's President's Awards for his leadership in the legal community. U.S. News & World Report's Best Lawyers in America also recently named Doug a 2023 “Lawyer of the Year.” He earned this prestigious award through the nominations and votes of his fellow lawyers in the Houston community.
Doug and his experienced team at the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C., have been protecting the rights of people in Houston for years. Find out how they can help you. Give the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C., at 713-229-8333, or contact them online to schedule a consultation.