Houston Criminal Defense Blog

The Truth About “Backpage” Prostitution Stings

backpage prostitution sting

It was probably inevitable that the trend toward online shopping would eventually include certain forms of criminal activities. Craigslist and Backpage have become the go-to websites for individuals offering sexual services for sale and for their customers who might be in the market for what is being sold. The ads are thinly disguised as offering escort services, but the contacts soon turn to negotiations over sexual activities.

Not wanting to be left behind, law enforcement agencies in Houston and throughout the country have joined the prostitutes and their customers in the online world. Sting operations in which police post ads designed to attract individuals seeking the services of a prostitute. Many of the sting operations target men looking for underage women. These sting operations have come to be called Backpage stings in reference to the popular website.

Texas Criminal Laws Pertaining to Prostitution

State law breaks down prostitution into three categories based upon the conduct of the individual committing the offense. The three categories are:

  • The prostitute: This is the person offering to engage in sexual activities in exchange for money or other forms of compensation.
  • The consumer: Consumers are referred to as “johns” when they solicit acts of prostitution.
  • The promoter: The promotion of prostitution is a separate criminal offense from those engaged in the actual sexual activities. Promoters are commonly referred to as pimps and madams.

Offering or engaging in sexual conduct in exchange for money or other forms of payment is a crime in Houston. Solicitation of a prostitute is also a criminal act under the penal code in Texas. Someone who designs or plans activities involving the offering of sexual conduct in exchange for compensation is guilty of the crime of promotion of prostitution provide the following elements of the crime are present:

  • Acting with knowledge of the nature of the conduct being promoted
  • Supervising, managing, investing in, financing or controlling a prostitution enterprise
  • The enterprise must include two or more individuals used as prostitutes

There are a number of criminal laws pertaining specifically to children. Compelling a child who is under 18 years of age to engage in prostitution is a felony. Trafficking, inducing and sexually assaulting a child are also crimes under the state penal code when the activities are connected with prostitution.

Houston Backpage Sting Tactics

The tactics used to catch someone soliciting a prostitute online are relatively simple and straightforward. The typical Backpage sting usually involves the following:

  • Creation of an online ad for Craigslist, Backpage or other websites known as places where prostitutes and their customers meet
  • Using words and photographs designed to lure and entice customers
  • Using undercover police officers to field calls in response to the ads
  • Arranging a meeting where the caller can be arrested

Once a call comes into the police in response to an online ad, the officer taking the call attempts to get the caller to discuss price, services desired and, in order to increase the charges and the penalties, attempting to get the caller to ask for or agree to meet with an underage prostitute. The telephone conversations arranging the meeting will be recorded by the police and used as evidence to support criminal charges against the caller.

At the meeting, an undercover officer posing as the prostitute will again attempt to engage the individual in a conversation that will include:

  • Acknowledgement of the purpose of the meeting
  • The types of sexual activities the individual wants
  • The price the individual is willing to pay
  • An admission or acknowledgement that the individual understands the prostitute to be underage

An audio and video recording is made of the meeting and the arrest. Just as with the recording of the phone call, the recordings of the meeting will be used as evidence in the prosecution of the individual for solicitation and, possibly, for crimes involving a minor.

Consequences of a Prostitution Sting Operation

If you are the unfortunate target of a police prostitution sting operation, a conviction on the charges can affect your life long after your sentence has been served. Prostitution offenses are felonies or misdemeanors, so you will have a criminal record reflecting a conviction. The charges alone can affect your relationship with family and loved ones, and they can leave you open to embarrassment, ridicule and, depending on your job, disciplinary action at work.

Prostitution convictions are usually misdemeanors with penalties ranging from fines of $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail to $10,000 in fines and up to 20 years in prison when a child is involved. Promoting prostitution or compelling prostitution are either felonies or misdemeanors with the penalties and charges increasing with prior convictions or when a child is involved.

A Houston Prostitution Attorney Can Help

Prostitution sting operations involve conversations or emails between the undercover police officer and the targeted individual containing ambiguous or vague references to sexual activities and payments. Common defenses might include:

  • Entrapment by police
  • Lack of intent to engage in sexual activities
  • Consent on the part of the parties for sexual conduct without payment

If you have been charged with a prostitution-related offense, trust your case to a firm committed to clients. Contact the Law Offices of Billy Skinner today.


Photo David Sifry
| Used under Creative Commons image attribution license 2.0

Categories: Sex Crimes