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Unless you regularly travel through a few particular parts of town, you may think that prostitution isn’t much of a problem in Fort Worth because you don’t see those women on the street. But these days, most prostitutes and pimps don’t work the streets. Like any other 21st-century business, they advertise online.

The local law enforcement officer said there are thousands of prostitutes in Fort Worth, almost all of them working in strip clubs, bars, and other businesses that double as brothels.

The largest single source of commercial sex workers is the “adult” section of backpage.com and, locally, the classified ads in the back pages of Fort Worth Weekly, the officer said. Customers contact the women through the ads and arrange a place to meet, usually at a local massage parlor.

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Many so-called massage parlors are actually prostitution businesses, the officer said. The premises look like those of a legitimate business with a steady stream of customers. The owners hire and train workers, keep up with the schedule of clients, and take a cut of the proceeds.

According to the city, there are only 18 licensed sexually oriented businesses in Fort Worth, mostly strip clubs and adult bookstores. But if Houston’s example proves true, there may be many more operating without a license.

In Houston, Laster said, she found 11 licensed sexually oriented businesses, but hundreds more operating outside the law.

The Fort Worth law enforcement officer said strip clubs, not surprisingly, are hot spots for prostitution. He believes the exotic dancers’ lifestyles makes those women particularly susceptible to pimps, who know how to find out what is missing in a woman’s life and fulfill that need.

Once the pimp has power over a woman, he doesn’t let her go — she’s worth too much money. The officer said that although the women could theoretically provide the evidence needed to convict the pimps of promoting prostitution, the women are seldom willing to testify.

“We have to stop looking at [the prostitute] as the suspect” when those women are in fact the providers of evidence, he said. “You never do that in any other criminal act.

“A lot of people see this [prostitution] as a victimless crime. Seeing a prostitute as a victim is the biggest challenge to society,” the officer said.

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Five years ago, Rebekah, 33, escaped the man who had been threatening to kill her since she was 17.

She asked to be identified only by her first name. She still fears for her life.

Rebekah was the teenage girl you see riding around with friends — windows down, music blaring, talking about the boys she would meet. She was a cheerleader in middle school, a soccer player, and a tomboy growing up with older brothers in the suburbs of Fort Worth.

Jordan: At RISE, “they don’t give up on you.”
Jordan: At RISE, “they don’t give up on you.”

Her parents were doting, successful, and protective. As a teenager, she started rebelling. She snuck out of a church lock-in at a bowling alley and got raped for the first time. She told no one about it, but the trauma led her to start stealing and experimenting with drugs, which got her arrested. She ran away at 16 and was sent to a Christian reform school in East Texas called Holy Highway. First chance she got, she broke out. She lived with drug dealers on the streets in North Texas and became addicted to drugs.

The dealer she was living with told her that she had to start pulling her own weight. So she got a job as a stripper at Dreams Gentlemen’s Club in Dallas, even though she was just 17.

After a few weeks, she met a cute guy at the club and moved in with him on one condition: that she could smoke pot every day. He said that was OK.

The second night she was with her “boyfriend,” she found herself in the back of a car with three other girls on Harry Hines Boulevard being given a lesson on how to get paid for sex.

“That lasted two months before I wanted to kill myself,” Rebekah said. But she didn’t have anywhere else to go. “I felt like my family was dead to me.”

One night, outside a bar on Harry Hines, Rebekah met a man who would change her life forever. She ran away to live with him in a luxurious 5,000-square-foot house in Denton. During the months leading up to her 18th birthday, the “family” of girls at the house encouraged her to stop doing drugs and start taking better care of her body.

“The brainwashing started immediately,” Rebekah recalled about those first few months. She was already starting to believe that the man — her new pimp — really cared about her.

Over time, Rebekah was “groomed” to became a prostitute to some of the richest men in the Metroplex, making thousands of dollars each night and occasionally $50,000, when a high-roller came calling.

Her pimp had houses in Texas and Nevada, and they were always traveling to different cities to meet clients.

According to a report released earlier this year by the Texas Department of Public Safety, Rebekah was part of “the fastest growing business of organized crime.” Sex trafficking, DPS researchers said, is “the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world.”

In North Texas, a pimp can make $200,000 a year off one prostitute. “If that pimp has five girls in his ‘stable,’ he’s knocking down one million bucks,” said Grover.

In Texas, as in other places, sex traffickers target the most vulnerable populations, such as illegal aliens and juvenile runaways like Rebekah.

“To me, he was my everything,” Rebekah said of the man who had taken her to the big house and the life of a prostitute. “I really believed that he loved me.”

If that seems hard to believe, just think back to when you were 20, explained Laster. “You meet this seemingly wonderful new guy, and you want to share all your dreams, insecurities, goals, and fears with him.”

Once you do that, the guy takes that information and uses it to manipulate you, she said. Then these “recruiters” put you into a trauma state by raping you, beating you, or depriving you of sleep.

After a beating the men tell the women, “I love you, I did this for your own good,” Laster said. The true persona of the pimp, she said, “is the one who beat you. The actor is the one who cleaned the blood off your face. And ‘love’ is the superglue most pimps use. They are the villain and the savior at the same time.”

Laster, 50, has been helping victims of human trafficking for the past 12 years. She started in Houston, working for the YMCA’s trafficked persons assistance program.  She moved to California to lead the Orange County human trafficking task force before coming back to Texas as a consultant, trainer, and advocate for trafficking victims through her Austin-based nonprofit, The Bernardo Kohler Center.

“I’ve never met a willing prostitute, and I’ve asked,” said Laster. “When you first meet them [prostitutes], they all say they’re willing, but when you keep asking, you always find the coercion and the person who is benefiting.

“I think it’s a fairy tale — the willing prostitute,” she said. “Maybe I just know too much.”

In 2006 federal agents busted down the door of the house Rebekah was sharing with her pimp in Las Vegas. Agents had to rely on the women living at the house, like Rebekah, to make a case against him. But despite law enforcement pressure, Rebekah never gave him up. She served 11 months in prison for conspiracy to commit tax evasion, the only charge federal prosecutors could make stick.

(Prostitution is legal in parts of Nevada, at brothels scattered throughout the desert. Advocates for legalized prostitution say this makes women feel safe and enables them to escape abusive pimps while still earning a living.

In Las Vegas itself, prostitution is still illegal. Last year the New York Daily News reported that about 30,000 prostitutes work in that city.)

Despite the beatings, prison time, and empty promises, it took Rebekah two more years to get out. She got up the courage to leave after the man was convicted, also of tax evasion, and went to prison for 18 months.

“He told me he would hunt me down and kill me if I ever left him,” Rebekah said.

To this day, she believes that could happen. Her former pimp is out of prison again, and she thinks he’s still trafficking women.

Rebekah is in college now, working on a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. She wants to become an attorney to help other victims escape sex trafficking and start new lives, as she has.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Regardless of one’s personal stance on people buying and selling sex, the claim that “the average age of girls who are compelled into prostitution is 12 to 14” is a myth, and not doing a fact check on such an important matter is more than just an oversight.

    For starters, look at Chris Hall’s article “Is One of the Most-Cited Statistics About Sex Work Wrong?”. You’ll find plenty of facts and sources in it. He concludes with a statement Ms Angle should take to heart:

    “For those of us who write about sex workers and those who make laws that determine their lives, they are a reminder of our responsibility: To quiet the voices in our heads and listen, rather than repeating numbers without knowing what they mean or where they came from.”

    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/09/is-one-of-the-most-cited-statistics-about-sex-work-wrong/379662/

    • So you are saying that all the organizations that have devoted their lives to helping those trapped in this modern day slavery are making up facts? I know ppl who have helped rescue ppl as young as elementary aged and then on an every day basis groups here are taking in teens as young as the ones you say are mythical. 1 in 7 runaways (on the low end) are trafficked within an extremely short time of leaving their homes. Traffickers wait at train & bus stations looking for those they can manipulate. They are very skilled at finding vulnerable youth. Then when they get them to their house (typically on the guise of saying they will take care of them) they are often raped and beaten into submission.

      Calling those that are being trafficked “sex workers” might imply that they are actually the ones getting paid. THATS the myth. The one making the money is the pimp. An average trafficker can make $250,000 a year of ONE girl/woman. While he is becoming a millionaire, her average life expectancy is 7 years.

      I too once was not knowledgeable about this. Then I decided to get involved. I see the results. My friends bear the scars physically and every other way of this so called “sex work”. Atleast call it what it is…slavery.

      • Girlfriend. Go read the article linked in his comment. He’s right, and it’s more complex than what you’re saying. Stop being defensive long enough to learn something.

  2. You lose me when your philosophy predictably includes the following sentence: “There’s not enough money allocated to the issue in Fort Worth to accurately measure its prevalence and make people sit up and take notice, she said” So you are admitting that you really do not know the extent of the problem– which, more than likely, is why people are indifferent. Where would said money go? How efficiently would it be used? If you admit that you don’t know the extent of the problem, how can you have a viable plan? Money given to lard butted bureaucrats and assorted “do-gooders” will not put a dent in an age old practice. It would be refreshing if someone,anyone didn’t use human suffering as a tax payer funded poorly defined career opportunity.

    • there are many of us “assorted do-gooders” as you mentioned that work day in and day out for not.one.cent to help those in this city that are stuck in this modern day slavery. If you could sit across from these brave women who- much like slaves from hundreds of years ago- are compelled into this by various things and then when they want to get out, they are in danger of their life. Literally. They are beat, raped, tortured, forced to work for NOTHING and treated as less then human. That money you think they are making actually goes to their task masters. Yes, this is happening here and I- as well as many ppl I know- fight tirelessly- at much cost to ourselves in time and other expenses- for these brave ladies to know that someone, somewhere loves them and believes in them. seems to me they are worth tax dollars more than other things we waste money on….

      • OK well here’s a novel idea: if you are a prostitute get off of drugs, disavow liquor and get a job —ANY job. Try to re-create a link with your family if the government hasn’t destroyed it in the name of greater “Guberism”. Go to any local parish and proclaim your need for some further assistance. I am personally not impressed by life long criminals who really don’t want to give up their lifestyles—but want some crafty profit mongering PR firm or homeless shelter to perpetrate their cycle of destruction at tax payer expense.

        • Skeptic, I, unlike you, and I’m even convinced, most other knuckle-headed, self-worshiping, Tea-Bagging half-wits and perverts love America. Why do you hate America? What is it about ‘for it is in giving that we recieve’ that confuses you? Surender your selfish arrogence and put your silly, stinking Guberism into your pointed ears. Why do you hate and abuse our Lord’s simple instructions. Salvation Army and many, many other charities and Americans learned that as children.I got you on my Prayer List.

  3. Thank you for showing that these women are more than just “former prostitutes.” They are real people with goals and dreams. And I also believe that what Ms. Angle referenced about more severe prosecution of johns would go along way to slow the demand for prostitution. I hope more action is taken soon.

  4. This article shows a part of Fort Worth that few people want to see or even think about. I applaud the authors efforts to turn over the rock and show what’s underneath. You can look at the wording and statistics or look at the big picture. Yes this problem has been around for a while and will probably be around for a while longer but if this article reaches that one person that has a world changing idea that changes the game, then it was worth writing. But I have been know to always see greener grass. Thanks for the article.

    • Sorry but the purveyors of this industry are not going to read this newspaper or have a “Road to Damascus” experience and give up an illegal profitable life style. The economy is terrible and about to get worse with more illegals under the social welfare umbrella–that is specifically why this article is written–to bilk the hard working tax payer out of more money.

      • Yes. North Texas (and TX across the board) is methodically indoctrinated in order to maintain the population of drugged, dumbed down and distracted so MX and Central American “golden children” can continue to pour in, be “received” accordingly, get the multitude of services they need (while American citizens/veterans die awaiting treatment and or earned benefits). TX, already disproportionately illiterate, illegal and illegitimate, will continue to be the preferred territory for the former and related benefactors, including the reported 6 major MX cartels headquartered in DFW. Fort Worth does the best job of welcoming and hosting them resulting in a predominance of growing underclass; count on the proliferation of sex trafficking, drug distribution, sales and storage, illegal guns and associated disproportionate street and business crime. Locally, the inmates have had the keys a long, long time.

        • ‘For he was a stranger and he let me in’….’Love your neighbor as yourself’….you Peckerwoods are a piece of work. I humbly suggest you grow up and get a life.

  5. I believe it took great courage to tell the world there life stories and Miss Jordan is an amazing person that has come a long ways I am truly amazed of all her accomplishments she is an inspiration to us all and I am truly honored to have the opportunity to get to know her I would like to thank the rise Program for helping this wonderful woman and helping them become the woman they are truly meant to be.

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