According to a new analysis by CHILDREN AT RISK, over 35,000 children in Texas attend school within 1,000 feet of a suspected illegal massage parlor. How can we address this important issue?
1. School board trustees must be required to undergo human trafficking training. Clearly, if trafficking is occurring literally around the corner from our schools, students need to be protected. A training curriculum for teachers has already been developed by the state but it is not mandated and rarely used. Trustees who know about this issue and the dangers it presents will be far more likely to require that teachers be trained to spot and report signs of human trafficking.
2. Texas must do more to hold property owners accountable. Last session CHILDREN AT RISK passed several significant measures to make it easier for local governments to close illegal massage businesses (IMBs) using nuisance and abatement lawsuits. However, the provisions that would have held property owners more accountable were significantly weakened by some key legislators. It is clear that this problem is only getting worse and the legislature must act. Potential changes include: lessening the notification burden on law enforcement when it comes to property owners and nuisance and abatements laws; allowing commercial tenants in the same shopping center to break their lease without consequences if a property owner leases to an unlicensed massage establishment; requiring a question about licensing on leases under state law, with a false answer resulting in a criminal penalty.
3. Deceptive trade practice suits. A major bill was passed last session (HB 2552) that makes it a deceptive trade practice for an unlicensed business to hold itself out as a massage establishment. The Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office needs to begin enforcing this new law and suing IMBs.
4. Local governments must require massage establishments to be licensed. Although the state requires massage establishments to have and maintain a license, many cities throughout the state do not. For instance, in Dallas, the existing city ordinance scheme places the burden of licensing and investigation entirely on the police department. Cities must adopt tough modern ordinances and enforce them.
5. It is time for Texas to provide a compassionate response to victims and acknowledge that crimes—such as prostitution—committed by victims in the course of their being trafficked are not their fault. Texas needs a set aside law to allow victims to vacate convictions and expunge their records if they can show that but for being trafficked, they would not have committed these crimes. These women are hostages—not criminals.
Parents, teachers, and other concerned community members can also act now to help address this issue. After exploring the map and uncovering where suspected IMBs are located in your community, visit the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation website and find out whether the suspected IMBs have licenses. If they do not, file a report to TDLR. In addition, you can also file a report to TDLR if you see any suspicious or disturbing activities taking place outside these establishments.