New laws set to begin Sept. 1 are addressing human trafficking in Texas.

House Bill 3579 allows the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation to shut down massage establishments where human trafficking is suspected, according to a news release.

Other state laws offering preventative measures that affect the TDLR include:

  • HB 2313 requires rideshare companies to provide human trafficking training to their drivers regarding awareness and how to report suspected trafficking.
  • HB 2016 prevents someone from getting a massage therapy license if they have been convicted of, entered a no contest or guilty plea, or received deferred adjudication for sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault. Although existing laws provide for license ineligibility for some offenses, according to the agency, it does not explicitly prohibit licensure for sexual assault offenses.

Dig deeper

There are nearly 9,000 illicit massage businesses, or IMBs, in the United States, according to nonprofit research and advocacy group Children at Risk’s March 2022 report. With nearly 700 of those IMBs in Texas, the group called Houston “undeniably prevalent” for having IMBs. The organization also cited the following:

  • Such unlicensed operations are fronts for prostitution, and many engage in human trafficking.
  • Law enforcement spends a disproportionate amount of time patrolling smaller cities, towns and suburbs.
  • IMBs were often located in or near affluent areas, likely because the men who frequent the establishment come from a wealthier demographic.
  • The vast majority occupy leased commercial space.
  • These fronts are located next to day care centers, veterinary offices and even craft stores, estimating more than 900,000 children attend school within a mile of an IMB.

Also of note

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzales said the county’s human trafficking unit conducted 51 operations, closed 186 cases and made more than 144 arrests relating to human trafficking in 2022. He told Community Impact the department’s priority is to identify victims and get them the services they need.

“Those who are selling their bodies for sex are almost always victims, not criminals. Our goal is to rescue and support them,” Gonzales said.

Daniel Weeks contributed to this report.