Houston women take on fight to end sex trafficking

May 21, 2013 4:16:50 PM PDT
Here's something unimaginable: Girls as young as 12 being sold for sex. Houston has become a hub for human trafficking.

On Monday night, we shared the terrifying story of one survivor. Now, we have the story of the tough Harris County prosecutor who has made it her mission to zero in on "pimps and Johns" and put them behind bars.

"You would not believe the amount of truck drivers that slept with me. They were in their 40's and 50's and there's no way, I wasn't even developed hardly at all," sex trafficking survivor Cheryl Briggs said.

Briggs knows the life of a sex trafficking victim. Like many other runaways, she was sold for sex at age 12.

"Sometimes these pimps even have their babies and they tell them, 'If you want your baby, guess what, come back with $500 or I'll give it to a pedophile,'" Briggs said.

Houston has become a hub for human trafficking. But one Houston woman believes she can help to change that.

"Unfortunately, historically these children have been prosecuted and there have not been as many attempts to go after the pimps. And so that's one of the things we are trying to do, is change it," said Ann Johnson, an assistant Harris County district attorney.

Johnson has been named the human trafficking specialist and after winning a landmark case, Johnson is taking an aggressive new approach.

"The Texas Supreme Court recognized that child prostitutes do not get involved in this freely. They are victims, they are not offenders," she said.

Johnson is now prosecuting the pimps and the Johns -- not the girls.

"That's for their protection, to make sure they are taken out of this environment," she said.

For some teen victims, that means treatment in what's called GIRLS Court, which stands for Growing Independence Restoring Lives. It's run by 315th District Court Judge Angela Ellis.

"The first and most difficult step -- and it takes months -- is for the girls to come to understand in support of therapy that the person who has victimized them, that their pimp, is not in fact their loved one, is not in fact their boyfriend," Ellis said. "So a lot of work goes into getting the girls to understand they have been coerced, abused and brainwashed."

With the help of others, Johnson is on a mission.

"The important thing for people to know is this is a form of child abuse and for those that are engaging in it -- the Johns who are committing sexual assaults of children, for the pimps that are making money off of them -- we're coming after them," Johnson said.
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