According to Harris County authorities, it’s about to get harder for accused johns to get their charges dismissed.
The announcement comes on the heels of revelations that 70 percent of the men arrested in last year’s pre-Super Bowl prostitution sting were on track to have their charges dismissed.
The sting is part of a national effort to combat increased sex trafficking before major sporting events.
During a 10-day operation ending just prior to the 2017 Super Bowl, Houston police arrested 249 people who allegedly pursued sex with a prostitute or participated as a prostitute, leading the nation in arrests.
As RARE previously reported, Harris County also arrested 103 johns as part of their pre-Super Bowl sting in 2018, topping nationwide arrests once again.
Beginning in 2017, Harris County officials began targeting johns rather than prostitutes in an effort to stifle demand.
“We were treating johns in a much more gingerly fashion than the prostitute or seller,” Harris County District Attorney’s Office Sex Crimes Division Chief JoAnne Musick told the Houston Chronicle. “On average, our sellers would end up spending anywhere from three to 20 days in jail. That’s a pretty big difference because it takes two to tango. We did not like that disparity.”
However, the policy change did not address how the customers would be handled by the court system.
In years past, accused johns could use a pre-trial diversion program allowing them to avoid conviction. The program allows first-time offenders to receive six months to a year of probation if they undergo drug testing, take an AIDS awareness class and pay fines.
Although the program is meant for first-time offenders, the DA’s office acknowledged some men used the tactic more than once, as their previous charges were expunged.
Now, the DA’s office plans to limit the program’s use, ensuring johns are held accountable for their actions.
As part of their campaign against johns, Harris County also engages in public shaming efforts to deter johns.
“When we arrest you, we will expose you for the sick person that you are, and we will plaster your face in the community so people know the content of your character,” HPD Chief Art Acevedo said at a press conference in January 2017.
Defense attorneys disagree with the tactics, saying they negatively affect the men accused of engaging in sex acts with prostitutes.
“I’ve got clients that are professionals that this is going to affect their lives and their family’s lives because they are going to lose their jobs,” defense attorney Ed Chernoff said.