Why are there so many prostitution arrests in Waco and McLennan County? Is this the new sex capital of the United States?

In case you missed it, there was another round of arrests for prostitution in Waco and McLennan. According to the Waco Tribune Herald article a total of 71 people (all men) were arrested in the latest operation. This operation was part of a national operation titled the "National John Suppression Initiative", and the 71 arrests put Waco number 5 in the number of arrests. I'm sure if you calculated the numbers on a per capita basis, we would have won by a mile. Houston barely beat out Waco with a mere 88 arrests.

What does this mean? Is prostitution really more of a problem here than anywhere else in the country? I don't think anyone would suggest that. The simple answer is that Waco - in particular the Sheriff's office - has gotten really good at putting these operations together. There are now deputies who reguarly spend time on this. Chance are pretty good that if you see an ad one of the websites devoted to this type of thing, it's probably someone from law enforcement. While this operation was part of a nationwide initiative, there have been plenty of local operations over the last couple of years; there aren't many weeks when we don't get a call from someone who's been arrested after responding to an online ad.

The question is why does law enforcement spend so much time on this. The goal is to reduce human trafficking, which is now the topic de jour for legislators and law enforcement. There's no doubt that's a problem, but going at it this way is as effective as the failed efforts in the so called "war on drugs" to target all the street dealers. If you have any doubt, the numbers tell the story -  out of 1,020 arrests across the country, 15 involved sex trafficking. That's a little more than 1%.

Even if you compare this to the war on drugs though, the operation is different. The technigue used in drug cases was to go and try to purchase drugs - not sell them. The theory was that you could arrest the small dealer, and then work your way up. In these operations you aren't even getting anyone who's actually involved in the problem. At least if you targeted women offering their services you could find victims who are being trafficked.

There's no doubt that there's some benefit in trying to reduce the demand for things - but is this one of those areas where that's the case. There's a reason why prostitution is called the world's oldest profession - it's been around for a long time. If police and lawmakers learned anything from the assault on drug use it was that you can't decrease demand for something people really want. 

In my opinion, there's a simpler reason why this renewed interest in prostitution - time and money. These are easy cases to make. You simply put up an ad, wait for someone to respond and show up, and then make the arrest. The other not so obvious reason is money. Because human trafficking is such a hot button topic, there's a lot of grant money available to law enforcement agencies. A long time U.S. Attorney told me early in my career that in all the complex cases, all you have to do is "follow the money." That goes for a lot of things, including law enforcement operations.

Fortunately, the victims in this new "war" may not have their lives and careers destroyed. You never get over the embarrasment - especially when your picture is in the paper, but there are options to keep the charge off your record if this is the first time you've been in trouble.

Despite what almost concedes - that the war on drugs was a complete failure - the war on trafficking will continue. Don't get me wrong, sex trafficking is awful thing, and needs to be stopped. But you're never going to make headway by starting at the bottom. You're not even locating women who could be the subject of trafficking. At least arresting street dealers, there was an argument that you could work your way up the chain

Walter Reaves
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Criminal Defense Attorney Walter Reaves has been practicing law for over 30 years.
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