Cheap Motels, Highways and Poverty Facilitate Sex Trafficking: Study

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Sex traffickers—those who recruit, transport and sexually exploit others through force or coercion—prey on poor and urban neighborhoods near highways and cheap motels, according to researchers at Texas State University.

In a study published in the Journal for Criminal Justice, researchers Deborah Mletzko, Lucia Summers and Ashley N. Arnio found Austin, Texas’ “hottest cluster” of sex trafficking offenses in the north end of the city, where a major interstate highway intersects two other major roads and is adjacent to a street known for prostitution solicitation.

This cluster is just one of many sex trafficking hot spots in similar areas across the city, according to the researchers who examined reported sex trafficking offenses in more than 500 areas in Austin between 2013-2015.

The researchers argue that perpetrators target these areas for practical reasons: for example, access to highways makes it easier to recruit and transport victims, and cheap motels offer a secure place to harbor victims and broker sex transactions.

Not clear, however, is the offense’s connection to poverty. Other potential predictors of sex trafficking examined—residential instability, proximity to a local truck stop, and racial and ethnic heterogeneity—had no significant impact.

The findings suggest two implications: First, they support a commonly held theory among criminologists that the presence of a particular crime may depend upon the physical makeup of a community. And second, the understanding of this factor can “inform intervention efforts by law enforcement and other agencies aimed at disrupting the underlying support structure of sex trafficking,” the authors write.

Human trafficking—responsible for the forced labor of approximately 20 million people globally—remains one of the most pervasive organized criminal activities in the world, according to the FBI, which assembled at least three task forces to combat human trafficking. Just before the new year, President Donald Trump officially declared January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

Austin Texas—the state’s fourth most populous city with an estimated population of nearly 950,00—is a suitable site for the study because of its proximity to the Mexican border and its positioning within the so-called Texas Triangle, according to the authors.

A copy of the study may be downloaded here.

J. Gabriel Ware is a news intern for The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

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