Justice and Cash for Sex Trafficking Victims


Written by Caroline Heldman

Last week, U.S. district judge Lynn Hughes set an important legal precedent in the fight against human trafficking in the U.S. He ruled that five teenaged survivors of sex slavery in Houston will receive the entire proceeds from the sale of their traffickers’ property. As U.S. prosecutors have until now been mostly unsuccessful in getting traffickers’ assets seized, this precedent sends a strong message to other traffickers: If they get caught, they’ll lose everything they own.

The trafficking ring in this case was run by a brother and sister, Jose Luis Rojas and Maria “Nancy” Rojas, who started forcing girls and women into sexual slavery over a decade ago. Using physical and psychological abuse and economic manipulation, they imprisoned victims from Mexico who were falsely promised food service jobs. Jose once held a gun to a trafficked woman’s pregnant belly and threatened to kill her. In addition to losing their property assets (homes, brothels, restaurants and bars totaling over $600,000) , the Rojas siblings were sentenced to 26 and 28 years in federal prison, respectively.

The Houston Police Department has been called to locations run by the Rojas siblings 60 times in recent years for prostitution, robberies, assaults and drug use, but the brothels remained open. This is the third time since 2005 that federal authorities have cracked down on the Rojas ring, but each time, traffickers were able to re-open brothels at the same locations by shuffling ownership . According to the Houston Chronicle:

To avoid seizures and shutdowns, ring members repeatedly transferred business ownerships or property after past crackdowns, deftly playing a paper game that left some city and state officials frustrated and clamoring for stronger laws targeting people who profit from selling women, men and minors as virtual slaves.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ruben Perez, who prosecuted the case, says, “There’s a lot of money to be made–that’s why they keep rearing their ugly heads. It’s very lucrative.” Human trafficking is the third largest criminal enterprise in the world (behind weapon and drug sales), with enormous profits–an estimated $32 billion worldwide. This ruling is important because it hits traffickers where it hurts: their bank accounts.

On the downside, Judge Hughes’ ruling reflected some common myths about trafficking survivors. While granting the assets to the five teenagers, Hughes decided that nine adult women who had been manipulated, threatened and beaten by the Rojas ring were not eligible for compensation because they may have materially benefited from their own trafficking. In response, Texas-based human trafficking activist Dottie Laster, who has assisted victims of the Rojas ring in the past, asks:

What amount of money they could have kept that meant that they benefited substantially from being beaten, raped and impregnated for a commercial enterprise? Who pays for the children they have due to the trafficking? Do they get child support?

Hughes was also bothered by the fact that some of the adult survivors had been romantically involved or even had children with their traffickers, not understanding the common Romeo Pimp dynamic in sexual slavery. As prosecutor Perez notes, “Psychological coercion [can be] worse than a beating.”

Though imperfect, Hughes’ ruling is still a huge advancement, sending a clear message to traffickers that their profits can be gone in an instant.

This post was originally published by Ms. Magazine.


Related Stories:

Secret Service and Prostitutes: Just Boys Being Boys?

Why Shutting Down Sex Ads Fails Trafficking Victims

Sex Workers Deserve Dignity and Care


Photo from Google Maps of the La Constenita night club after the shutdown

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KS Goh
KS Goh3 years ago

Thanks for the article.

wesley a.
wes Allen3 years ago

Sex slavery is actually more profitable than drugs. There are at least 250,000 people sold into the sex trade every year and Houston is a big hub for this.

Lilithe Magdalene

Definitely imperfect - but definitely a step in the right direction as to how to deal with pimps who coerce.

Rin S.
Rin S.3 years ago

I really hope these scumbags get what they deserve and rot in jail.

Neil A.
Neil A.3 years ago

This just shows how evil these traffickers are, I can not understand why the justice Dept/police took so long & 60 visits before they were finally shut down. 26 & 28 years this is costing the taxpayer tooo much, they should work for their keep (or put them down).

Karen and Ed O.
Karen and Ed O.3 years ago

While this judge did a good thing that brought about some satisfactory results, he also displayed a fact about judges in this country. They do not know enough about the cases they are trying.
I hope this prosecutor can find a way of helping the adult victims of these vile people.
I have a belief that after someone from another country, any country, is punished for a crime they commited in the US, they should be returned to that country. No bon voyage, nothing.

Lori E.
Lori E.3 years ago

So sad and disgusting. Glad they're finally behind bars.

Kristen H.
Kristen H.3 years ago

Thank you. And I agree: The adults may have been as hurt... but they also may be likely to return to prostitution, as their brainwashing may be permanent. I know we can't second-guess justice, but I think the ruling was as fair as the judge could have made it and I applaud his decision.

Amie K.
Amie K.3 years ago

I agree with Jamie. Legalization would eliminate the underworld side of the 'industry.'

Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemons3 years ago

Maybe if they would legalize prostitution they could get the evil criminal element out of it likewise with drugs.