ALVIN — Preventing the spread of human trafficking into Brazoria County is a feat requiring more than one plan of attack, Brazoria County United Front Coalition organizers said.
One of the imperative ways to combat this ongoing issue is through local planning and zoning ordinances, making it more difficult for illicit businesses to traffic individuals through their doors, Love People Not Pixels spokesman Joe Madison said Wednesday at a United Front’s meeting.
“To fight something so big, we have to start small,” Madison said. “We need to look at city ordinances and how they’re worded. One of two things happen when you start talking about brothels; people ask why don’t we just shut them down. And that’s because our law enforcement agencies have finite resources. And people say they’ll just pop up again if you shut one down.”
A reported 500 brothels are in operation throughout the Houston and surrounding areas, often disguised as massage parlors with blackout windows and locked, buzzer doors, Madison said.
Law enforcement agencies and local residents might be aware of the illicit business, but it takes time and resources to close them down, he said.
City officials in Pearland have adopted a resolution that requires new businesses to have a conditional use permit, or a temporary business permit, in order to prove its legitimacy.
“We have to get ahead of it before it comes into our community,” Madison said. “As we see (illicit businesses) creeping in, we have to protect that territory … as we continue to see this sort of affluence in businesses and corporations, that’s where the (sex) buyers want to go.”
From Pearland down to the coastal towns of Lake Jackson, Freeport and Surfside Beach, United Front Coalition leaders encouraged those in attendance of the meeting to brainstorm ways citizens can fight human trafficking through their local governments.
Activating the business community in the conversation around human trafficking is an important part of the fight, UnBound Director Kerri Taylor said.
“We are just addressing one sliver of the problem today by focusing our efforts on city ordinances that could stop illicit businesses from popping up in the county,” Taylor said.
The reported $99 billion industry is something residents in Brazoria County need to seriously examine, while actively recruiting others into the conversation, Madison said.
Other attendees of the meeting addressed ongoing prevention tools that aid in the fight, including education in schools, creating contact lists of advocates and other resources people can use to obtain more information, addressing labor laws in addition to those exploited to the sex trade and to generally keep the conversation alive.
Texas remains one of the highest volume states for human trafficking, with more than 300,000 cases reported annually, Taylor said. Houston’s proximity to the coast is an important factor in the growth of trafficking in the area, she said.
Through meetings like the United Front gatherings, residents are taking important steps in tackling a nuanced problem, organizers of the meeting said.
“We as a community have the power to do these things,” Madison said. “My vision is that Brazoria County leads (the way) in Texas to end trafficking in our state. We can do this through eliminating buyer motivation and reducing buyer access.”