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human trafficking

Are you nostalgic for some strip club litigation?

Then this is your lucky day.

The legal fight over the striptease business in Houston has heated up, again.

Two topless bars are suing the city of Houston over a controversial, years-old legal settlement they say unfairly hampers business at all but a select group of clubs.

In a June 1 filing, lawyers for Chicas Cabaret and Penthouse Houston argued that the 2013 settlement — which allowed sixteen strip clubs to skirt the city’s sexually-oriented business ordinance by making annual payments to fund an anti-human trafficking unit in the Houston Police Department — amounts to a commercial bribery scheme.

The two north Houston clubs argue the settlement is “unlawful, unfair, and anti-competitive in nature,” and impacted their ability to do business.

“Our position is that discriminating against some clubs and showing favoritism towards others is just plain wrong under the Constitution and Texas law,” said Spencer Markle, attorney for Chicas Cabaret and Penthouse Houston. “That’s why we’re taking them to task.”

The strip clubs are seeking a restraining order that would either prevent city officials from allowing the “sweet 16” clubs to avoided the city’s sexually-oriented business ordinance, or allow Chicas and Penthouse to join the agreement under the same terms.

“We just don’t want to be at a business disadvantage compared to the other clubs that are similarly situated,” Markle said.

[…]

Legal experts said the city’s recent settlement with Fantasy Plaza and the new lawsuits raised renewed questions about the city’s sexually-oriented business ordinance and the way it regulates sexually oriented businesses.

“Why is the city keeping an the ordinance on the books and basically exempting (businesses) from it?” said Josh Blackman, a professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston. “Normally the point of a statute is to enforce it equally. And if they’re just cutting deals with every strip club that asks for it, just repeal the damn statute.”

Markle’s suit echoes the same argument made by lawyers for Fantasy Plaza Cabaret when they sued the city of Houston earlier this year.

See here, here, and here for the background on the 2013 litigation. I thought that settlement was reasonable enough, but I can’t think of a good rebuttal to the argument that if this deal is available to some clubs, it should be available to all of them. I look forward to seeing how this gets resolved.

Dan Patrick wants SAPD Chief arrested

Bring it on.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Wednesday asked the state’s attorney general to determine if the chief of the San Antonio Police Department violated the state’s immigration-enforcement law during a human smuggling incident.

Late last month, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said officers arrested the driver of a tractor-trailer after a passerby saw people being unloaded from the vehicle and flagged down a police unit, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

Officers charged Herbert Nichols, 58, under a state statute that makes knowingly transporting persons in the country illegally a crime, instead of turning the case over to federal agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The immigrants were interviewed and released to a Catholic charity.

During a subsequent news conference, McManus said it could have been a state or federal charge but that he chose to go with the state charge because officers were waiting to see how to move forward.

In a letter, Patrick asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to investigate whether the department violated any portion of the state’s Senate Bill 4, a controversial and sweeping immigration enforcement bill passed by the Texas Legislature last year.

“I am very troubled by the recent news reports of the San Antonio police chief releasing suspected illegal immigrants in a case of human trafficking or human smuggling without proper investigation, identification of witnesses, or cooperation with federal authorities,” Patrick wrote. “Such action could be in direct violation of the recently passed Senate Bill 4 and threatens the safety of citizens and law enforcement.”

It’s unclear exactly which provision of the SB 4 Patrick alleges McManus violated. As passed, SB 4 allows local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest and punishes local government department heads and elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration “detainers” — requests by agents to turn over immigrants subject to possible deportation — in the form of jail time and fines.

Chief McManus, backed by San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, strongly disputes Patrick’s allegation. I kind of doubt Danno cares about the details. He’s looking to send a message. Keep an eye on this. The Current has more.

Fifth Circuit hears immigrant harboring lawsuit appeal

This time it’s the state that’s appealing a lower court ruling.

A federal appeals court in New Orleans heard oral arguments Wednesday about whether a key portion of Texas’ omnibus border security bill is legal.

Lawyers for the state of Texas argued that two landlords, and an immigrant services agency, who sued the state over House Bill 11 had no legal standing to do so. But the plaintiffs say they have every right to sue, and that federal law pre-empts what the state wants to do with the passage of House Bill 11.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans did not say when its three-judge panel might rule. The judges on the panel were E. Grady Jolly, Jerry E. Smith, and Edward C. Prado — all Republican appointees, court records show.

Under a provision of HB 11, which went into effect in September 2015, a person commits a crime if they “encourage or induce a person to enter or remain in this country in violation of federal law by concealing, harboring, or shielding that person from detection.”

In January 2016, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a lawsuit in San Antonio against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw and the Texas Public Safety Commission, which oversees the DPS. The lawsuit alleges the state violated the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause because immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility.

[…]

“I thought the argument went well today,” Nina Perales√, MALDEF’s vice president of litigation, said by email after presenting oral argument for the landlords. She said the judges listened carefully to both sides and asked thoughtful questions.

“Because the statute’s wording is very broad, and doesn’t contain exceptions for landlords and humanitarian workers, we argued to the court that landlords and humanitarian workers can be arrested under this law,” Perales said

See here and here for the background, and this Trib story for a pre-hearing overview. This is familiar ground we’re fighting over, and I expect this one will eventually make its way to SCOTUS. Unlike some other issues that have been fought and re-fought, this is one where the state may not care to push this beyond the current fight, in the belief that Donald Trump will build a glorious wall and make Mexico pay for it spend more federal money on border security. That assumes that they lose this fight, and that Trump is true to his word, both of which remain to be seen. In the meantime, we wait for the Fifth to do what it’s going to do.

Immigrant harboring law blocked

Good.

A federal judge has blocked part of the state’s omnibus border security bill that makes harboring undocumented immigrants a state crime.

Under a provision of House Bill 11, which went into effect in September, a person commits a crime if they “encourage or induce a person to enter or remain in this country in violation of federal law by concealing, harboring, or shielding that person from detection.”

[…]

In an order signed on Thursday, federal District Judge David Alan Ezra said the plaintiffs would likely succeed on the Supremacy Clause claim, and ruled that state and local officials had no authority to enforce the harboring provision until a final decision on the case is made.

“In this case, Plaintiffs risk subjection to criminal penalties under laws that might be pre-empted by federal law and the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution,” he wrote. “Thus, the Court finds that Plaintiffs are likely to suffer irreparable harm.”

[…]

Although MALDEF was victorious on one front, the judge rejected the group’s claim that the bill violates the plaintiffs right to due process and equal protection. Perales said the equal protection argument was made because the bill did not have a “rational purpose” and was arbitrary.

But in his order, Ezra said that although HB 11 might be pre-empted, the harboring provision fits in with the state’s intended goal of securing its borders.

“HB 11’s harboring provisions are rationally related to their stated purpose of ‘strengthen[ing] the state’s border security measures and help[ing to] stem the rising tide of human smuggling and human trafficking in Texas,’” he wrote.

See here for the background. The concern over this bill was that churches who work with immigrants, immigrants’ rights groups, and landlords who rent to immigrants may be criminalized by it. The plaintiffs in this case were in fact two landlords and the director of an immigrant services agency. The AG’s office didn’t say what they would do, but given their usual track record, it’s hard to imagine them not appealing the injunction. In either case, this will take awhile to resolve. Trail Blazers has more.

MALDEF sues over provision of border bill

Worth watching.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, filed suit Sunday against Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw and the Texas Public Safety Commission, which oversees the DPS. The group alleges that the state has violated the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause because immigration enforcement is only a federal responsibility. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of two San Antonio landlords and the director of an immigrant services agency, also says the new provision violates the plaintiffs’ guarantee to due process.

The provision in question is part of House Bill 11, a sweeping border security measure that went into effect in September.

Under that provision, people commit a crime if they “encourage or induce a person to enter or remain in this country in violation of federal law by concealing, harboring, or shielding that person from detection.”

MALDEF said the law was “enacted on dubious advice” because lawmakers were warned that the harboring provision would not withstand a constitutional challenge.

“The U.S. Supreme Court, as well as federal courts in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina have all struck down, as unconstitutional, state-enacted immigrant harboring laws like the one in HB 11,” Nina Perales, MALDEF’s vice president of litigation and the plaintiffs’ lead counsel, said in a statement. “Texas already has enough laws to protect us from human smuggling without targeting religious and nonprofit organizations that care for immigrants.”

[…]

Perales said recent testimony by McCraw at the state Capitol made filing the litigation more urgent.

“We do know from public statements that were made by Director McCaw that they are moving forward to implement the harboring law so now was the time to challenge it,” she said.

The lawsuit specifically cites McCraw’s testimony from last week where he told lawmakers about the agency’s preparations to further implement HB 11.

“Yes, we’ve educated [and] we’ve trained,” the filing quotes McCraw as telling the committee.

TrailBlazers has a copy of the lawsuit and some further detail.

Lawmakers said their goal was to target those engaged in the criminal business of smuggling. But codifying that intent proved difficult, as many raised concerns that pastors, immigration-rights groups and others could be roped in with felony charges.

“The bill that was filed … didn’t account for a lot situations that could put family members or people innocently going about their day in the sights of prosecution,” said Rep. Poncho Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass.

So Republicans and Democrats – along with a spate of attorneys – teamed up to allay those concerns.

They ended up focusing on those who “encourage or induce a person to enter or remain in this country in violation of federal law by concealing, harboring, or shielding that person from detection.” The person would have to have the intent of obtaining financial gain.

That work helped the bill receive significant Democratic support. But it didn’t erase all worries.

“We needed to rifle shot that thing a little bit more,” said Nevarez, who worked on the language and still voted for the bill. “We tried, and it may be that this lawsuit is a good way of showing us how we need to tailor the statute a little bit better.”

[…]

The MALDEF suit focuses on two landlords – one in Farmers Branch – who don’t ask their tenants to prove their immigration status before renting, along with an aid group that provides shelter and legal services to those who are in the country illegally.

Rep. Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat who also worked on the bill , said a prosecutor would be “ill-advised” to pursue those cases. He added: “The goal was to be precise in targeting people that were part of smuggling networks, part of a criminal element.”

That’s certainly a reasonable goal, but it sounds like it may not have been met. We know that immigration issues will be on the front burner for the 2017 Legislature, though much of that is about pandering and fearmongering. If we can get past that, perhaps this issue can be addressed constructively, whether or not the court has ruled on it by then. I hope so, anyway. The Current has more.

More reactions to the city’s settlement with the strip clubs

Not everyone likes it.

Bob Sanborn, CEO of the nonprofit organization Children at Risk, and other advocates against human trafficking said on Wednesday that they should have been consulted before a deal was struck.

Mayor Annise Parker, who brokered the agreement, said it ended a lengthy lawsuit and gives the city more funds to fight trafficking.

“We settled a 16-year-old lawsuit and it’s unfortunate that they don’t agree with my decision,” Parker said. “I don’t think we should get sidetracked by those folks who simply don’t like the adult entertainment industry.”

Sanborn said his group wants to make sure the city is committed to going after traffickers, even if they are connected to those topless clubs making yearly payments to the city. Children at Risk also wants the city to license or close almost 300 other unlicensed sexually oriented businesses, like some massage parlors and cantinas.

“Houston is a hub for human trafficking; some would say we are ‘the hub’ for trafficking,” Sanborn said during a news conference. “This is the wrong deal and it’s certainly the wrong city.”

See here and here for the background. I don’t think the city was required to consult with anyone on the settlement terms of this 16-years-long litigation, and if their goal was to bring that case to a reasonably satisfactory close then the last thing they would want to do is involve more parties in the negotiations. That said, the city clearly did at least run the terms of the deal past the other groups that were present at their own press conference. I don’t know if the city included Children at Risk on the list of those it notified about the settlement or not – perhaps they did and C@R chose not to attend that press conference, and perhaps they had a smaller list of invitees in mind. I think the terms are acceptable, and I think it makes sense for the city to try to get the bigger clubs to voluntarily cooperate so they can concentrate on the more marginal players. Licensing and enforcement is a matter of resources, and the city hopes that this settlement will allow it to deploy its resources more efficiently. Check back in a year or two and we’ll see how that’s going. As for the complaints raised by some Council members about the settlement, well, that’s just how it is. As there was no payout to be made by the city in the deal, there was nothing for Council to approve, so there was no role for them to play. There’s not much more to it than that.

One more thing:

Sanborn noted that Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and District Attorney Devon Anderson support Children at Risk’s anti-trafficking efforts and read statements from each.

“Prostitution is not a victimless crime,” according to Garcia’s statement. “It’s a greedy industry that thrives on forced labor, drug addiction and sometimes even illegal imprisonment.”

The story, especially the headlines, gives the impression that Sheriff Garcia and DA Anderson were standing with Sanborn, C@R, and the other groups in criticizing the settlement. We don’t know what Anderson said, but that clip from Garcia’s statement isn’t specific to the deal. Out of curiosity, I contacted the Sheriff’s office to ask about this, and was informed that Sheriff Garcia was not making a comment on the city’s deal with the strip clubs, and has not made any comment on that deal. Like I said, that wasn’t clear – to me, at least – from the story, so now you know.

Evaluating the strip club settlement

Some interesting feedback on the city’s recent legal settlement with area strip clubs.

South Texas College of Law professor Matthew Festa said the payments are not his central concern, noting cities often condition building permits on a business planting trees or building sidewalks. Festa said the deal presents a separation of powers issue, however, in that Mayor Annise Parker’s administration is selectively enforcing city rules. It also raises a due process issue by creating a two-tiered approach to enforcement, he said.

The ordinance remains in force as written for clubs not involved in the settlement. In addition to the three-foot rule, the ordinance requires that such businesses operate at least 1,500 feet from schools, day cares, parks and churches.

“ ’You close down the private rooms, and we’ll back down on the three-foot rule.’ Those are great examples of compromise and deliberation that are supposed to be made and decided on by the legislative body, which is the City Council,” Festa said. “The settlement may, in fact, reflect a good judgment about what the law should be, but until that becomes what the law is, it’s problematic for the city to not enforce it uniformly.”

Kellen Zale, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, had fewer concerns about two-tiered enforcement. She said the outcome strikes her as similar to grandfathering, which happens regularly in all cities, particular zoned cities where businesses that exist before land use rules change can operate under the old rules.

“The local government is exercising its police power and saying, ‘In exchange for you helping with our vice requirements, we can help with your, I guess, clothing requirements,’ ” she said. “It’s within their police power to make these arrangements that change the land use requirements or the business operation requirements for a particular business.”

Amy Farrell, a Northeastern University criminologist and human trafficking expert, found the settlement surprising. Small charges for such things as violating the three-foot rule can be useful for police, she said, helping them gain leverage for a wider trafficking probe.

“There certainly have been cities in the U.S. that have created agreements with businesses, but those were more on the regulation side and didn’t have this explicit pay-back system,” Farrell said. “We hope that communities would provide the resources to pursue these cases without needing to make bargains with strip clubs.”

Still, Farrell said, the information sharing between businesses and police, and the money to fund additional officers, could be valuable.

Mary Burke, executive director of the nonprofit Project to End Human Trafficking, refers to Houston as city that is making progress on human trafficking, but said the settlement “feels slimy.”

“I have mixed reactions. Are we somehow colluding with the perpetrator by taking this money?” she said. “That’s really fantastic to see that much money go to a human trafficking unit. I hope some of that money is given to groups who help survivors.”

Burke said she is among those who believe all sex businesses exploit and objectify women, and said she is concerned the elimination of the three-foot rule could lead to more dancers being touched or grabbed in unwelcome ways.

This story said that only five sexually-oriented businesses agreed to the deal; the original story and the Mayor’s press release said there were 16. I’m not exactly sure what accounts for the difference, but my guess is that it means five more besides the original 16 plaintiffs. Just a guess. Anyway, my impression was that it’s a reasonable deal, and it does have the effect of resolving this ridiculously long series of lawsuits and appeals. I gather that something like this hasn’t been tried anywhere else, so we’ll see how it goes. I think it was worth trying. Check back in a year or two and we’ll see if the parties involved still feel that way.

City settles longstanding litigation with strip clubs

From the Mayor’s press release:

HoustonSeal

Recognizing Houston is a hub for human trafficking, the City and 16 area topless clubs have entered into a novel settlement agreement aimed at addressing this heinous crime, ending litigation dating back to 1997 when City Council imposed new regulations on sexually-oriented businesses.

“In the 16 years since City Council acted, no original clubs have closed and new clubs choosing to ignore our regulations have grown in number,” said Mayor Parker.  “Establishing a working relationship with these 16 clubs will assist law enforcement in reducing criminal activity, help us combat human trafficking and, hopefully, allow us to focus police resources on the rogue clubs.  This settlement allows us to address the problem head on in a meaningful way with funding and staff.”

The 16 clubs will annually contribute more than one million dollars to a Human Trafficking Abatement Fund.  The funds will be used to create and staff a human trafficking unit within the Vice Division of the Houston Police Department.  In addition to contributing monies, these clubs must institute and adhere to certain restrictions and policies to aid in combatting human trafficking.  For example:

  • all private rooms and areas must be eliminated;
  • a club may not knowingly employ, hire or contract for the services of an entertainer or dancer who is accompanied by another person who speaks for her, holds her identification, collects her pay for “safekeeping” or appears to exercise control, force, or coercion over the person;
  • a club may not knowingly employ, hire or contract for the services of a person for whom a background check reveals a conviction within 60 months for a prostitution or drug offense;
  • any individual convicted of a drug or prostitution offense, public lewdness or indecent exposure at a participating club is prohibited from working at any club that is a party to the agreement;
  • any act of prostitution, public lewdness, indecent exposure or offense involving narcotics observed by or reported to a manager of a club will be reported to the City along with all remedial measures taken to ensure the activity is not repeated; and
  • all clubs will provide annual human trafficking awareness training and disseminate materials regarding human trafficking awareness.

In return, the City has agreed to allow these 16 clubs to continue operating at their same locations in much the same manner as they did prior to the 1997 ordinance.  While topless entertainment and table dances will be allowed again, laws against public lewdness, prostitution, indecent exposure and narcotics offenses will continue to be strictly enforced.  Arrests for these offenses are grounds for terminating a club from participating in this agreement.

This agreement applies only to these 16 grandfathered clubs.  Any other club offering sexually-oriented entertainment must still comply with the 1997 ordinance and all other regulatory provisions.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize there was still litigation pending. My most recent update on this is from 2008, but I see that as of then the city was still “involved in a lawsuit in state district courts with the 11 clubs that appealed to the Supreme Court”, which had to do with “amortization,” or the amount of time the owners should get to recoup their investments before having to close or relocate. So there you have it. The Chron story fills in some more details.

Because they still do not concede to being sexually oriented businesses, the clubs do not have to adhere to the ordinance’s regulation that they must operate at least 1,500 feet from schools, day cares, parks and churches.

“They are not saying it,” Feldman said. “But they are agreeing to do all these things that actually are a greater obligation than they would have under the ordinance if they were a (sexually oriented business).”

Any club that breaks the terms of the agreement will be dropped from the settlement, and the other establishments will have to pick up the contribution to the abatement fund.

Feldman, who began crafting the settlement in the spring, said the concept originated from a lawsuit settlement between the city and prominent strip club Treasures. In 2012, the city and Harris County Attorney’s office sued Treasures’ owner, accusing the establishment of harboring prostitution, drugs, illegal weapons and sexual assaults.

A settlement was reached last December in which the club’s owner agreed to put $100,000 in a nuisance abatement fund to combat human trafficking as well as similar provisions with the current agreement.

“That in turn gave me the idea if we can create such a fund for the purpose of addressing enforcement activities within these clubs, why couldn’t we do something similar to address the broader issue of human trafficking?” said Feldman.

Feldman said the city would be open to speaking with any other clubs that would like to come under a similar agreement.

If the agreement works well for both entities, Feldman said the next step would be grafting similar terms as a permanent provision in the city’s sexually oriented business ordinance.

See here and here for the background on the Treasures lawsuits. I presume all this means that the strip clubs will not be playing in the county elections this year.

According to Melissa Darragh, the Mayor’s social media director, the agreement is supported by HPD, the strip clubs themselves, the Houston Area Women’s Center, YMCA International, and the Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition. You’re on your own to figure out which of the clubs are among the 16 that are now approved for you to attend, however. Hair Balls has more.

Going after human traffickers

This is a great story about Ann Johnson, the Democratic candidate in HD134 last year, who is now back with the District Attorney’s office fighting against pimps and traffickers who prey on kids.

Ann Johnson

Johnson, a 39-year-old juvenile law attorney, is fluent in the language of the street, rattling off facts about Houston’s tracks, where pimps take prostitutes to pick up “tricks” or dates with johns.

She talks about “gorilla pimps” who control prostitutes with violence and “mack pimps” who use flattery, safety and the promise of love to lure prostitutes.

After cementing the relationship with sex, the mack asks the prostitute to help the “family” by selling sex.

That fluency means she can talk to minors about what they’re going through. And she can also explain that world to a jury.

“It’s such a foreign world, a hidden world and Ann knows about it,” said Jen Falk, a prosecutor who helped put Kentish in prison. “She brings such a unique background, especially in talking to victims who typically just get lost in the system.”

[…]

Although domestic child prostitution is not typically considered human trafficking, prosecuting those cases is a top priority and part of a three-pronged attack for newly elected District Attorney Mike Anderson.

“Houston is one of the top five cities in the world for human trafficking,” Anderson said. “We’re going to be busting the people who see this as their business and the mid-management, which are the pimps, and the johns as well.”

Anderson said he expects to see more cases filed against Houston’s cantinas and massage parlors where men and women are brought to Houston from all over the world to work as sex slaves.

“Just as sad, there are runaways here that are recruited with promises of a job or safety and they’re made to be prostitutes,” Anderson said.

After he decided to make trafficking one of his administration’s top priorities, Anderson set out to recruit Johnson. He hired her at a typical chief’s salary of $110,000 a year and said she may soon be creating an entire new trafficking division at the office.

“She’s extremely well respected in that area, she’s passionate about it, and she’s very good at what she does,” Anderson said. “She has a reputation at the courthouse.”

She is also well-known after an unsuccessful campaign last year to unseat incumbent Republican Sarah Davis for House District 134. A Democrat, Johnson lost the race but was widely supported by courthouse insiders, including Chris Tritico, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association.

“Every dealing I’ve had with her, when she was a prosecutor before and as a private practitioner has been very positive,” Tritico said. “I think the world of her.”

I had the pleasure of getting to know Ann during her candidacy in HD134, and she is indeed a fine person. I have no doubt that she will do a lot of good in this role. Kudos to Mike Anderson for hiring her, and best of luck to her and everyone in her division for the work they do.

County settles with Treasures

It’s over, at least for now.

When city of Houston lawyers settled a public nuisance lawsuit against Treasures last December, Harris County attorneys continued to pursue the jointly filed case, saying they needed more assurances from the strip club that it would operate above board.

Under a late-Monday settlement with the club, however, county attorneys all but pointed to the city settlement and added, “What they said.”

The agreement comes even as the plaintiffs acknowledge Treasures has violated its agreement with the city four times since December.

[…]

Just as club owner Ali Davari will pay the city $100,000 to assist the Houston Police Department in efforts to combat human trafficking, the latest agreement also will see Davari pay $100,000 to cover the county attorney’s costs. The settlement achieves enforcement beyond the city’s stipulations, First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said, noting Treasures must add an additional manager for weekday day shifts and for night shifts every day.

The settlement also requires Treasures managers to attend a class on human trafficking, and the club must amend the paperwork it gives independent contractors – typically, dancers – by adding language about trafficking, including a hot line victims can call.

“Yet again, they put all the responsibility on the victims, an impossible situation if they are being exploited,” said Dottie Laster, a New Braunfels-based human trafficking expert who said she is frustrated by both settlements. “It sounds like a fairy tale agreement, that the signatories are choosing to believe people aren’t being exploited, that it’s more likely everyone in there is willing.”

I don’t really know what to say to that, so let me point you to Dottie Laster’s website for more information. Look around a little and you’ll find a link to this story about the time Ann Johnson, Democratic candidate for HD134 last year, successfully argued before the State Supreme Court that minors should not be prosecuted for prostitution. Worth your time to look around Ms. Laster’s website and see what resources she has.

Broken Cords

Got an email today from Stephen, Melanie and Dianna Muldrow, who are three local kids that have put together a benefit concert called Broken Cords, which is intended to highlight and help fight against human trafficking. From their press release (PDF):

Broken Cords, a benefit concert to raise awareness of human trafficking and modern day slavery, will be held on August 29, 2009 at the prestigious Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts in downtown Houston’s theater district.

The brainchild of Houston area teenagers Stephen, Melanie and Dianna Muldrow, Broken Cords’ aim is to show that individuals of all ages can help identify and prevent the modern-day enslavement of children, women and men. Inspired by the plight of individuals in their own area, the Muldrow siblings challenged themselves to spend the summer of 2009 making a difference in their community.

“The fact that so few people know about modern-day slavery was one of the main reasons we wanted to put on this concert,” said Stephen Muldrow. “Human trafficking involves individuals just like me, they can be my age, and they can come from backgrounds like mine.”

The Broken Cords benefit concert will feature a world-class ensemble of musicians who have performed in the United States, Europe and Asia in an evening of music and education at Jones Hall. Confirmed performers include internationally acclaimed clarinetist Håkan Rosengren, concert pianists Rick Rowley, Caleb Harris and Andrew Staupe, and violist Luke Fleming, a C.V. Starr Doctoral Fellow at the renowned Juilliard School in New York City, New York.

“We really appreciate the musicians giving their time to this cause, and making the concert a beautiful program that all will want to see,” said Dianna Muldrow. “Human trafficking is a far larger problem than I ever realized and I am so glad to see people wanting and working to end it.”

Proceeds from the evening’s event will be donated to Houston’s Coalition Against Human Trafficking through a non-profit organization. The Coalition actively works to free those in bondage to modern-day slavery primarily through educating the Houston public to the existence and horrors of this tragedy.

“I’m excited about the fact that the Coalition Against Human Trafficking will be able to fund some of their projects that will make the public aware of what human trafficking is and how it is becoming more prevalent right here in our own city,” said Melanie Muldrow.

“Victims that were rescued and have been served by CAHT member organizations over the past several years are now needing extended care and connections to continue their journey of restoration,” said Charlotte Morris, Chair of CAHT Houston.

“It is essential to engage the community in a diversified way so that human trafficking victims can be better identified, rescued and restored. The opportunity to partner with Broken Cords provides CAHT the avenues to reach the community and raise awareness, and it will provide much needed funding for projects and support to help CAHT better serve in the restoration process.”

Two additional organizations, the International Justice Mission and Houston Rescue & Restore Coalition, will also benefit from the concert.

Ticket prices for the Broken Cords concert range from $25.00 to $75.00 for box seating. Special discounts are available for groups. Personal or corporate sponsorships are available in four levels: Liberator, Deliverer, Rescuer and Be a Hero. Concert, sponsorship and ticket information can be found at www.brokencords.com.

According to their email, if you’re a student you can get a second ticket free when you order one. Harris County Commissioners Court will issue a Resolution on August 11, 2009 declaring the day of the concert to be “Human Trafficking Awareness Day” in Harris County. That’s pretty cool. Check them out, and please help if you can. More here.