Dozens of people were arrested in an undercover, human-trafficking sting conducted in the Katy area last month, according to local law enforcement officials.
Houston Police Department Sgt. John Wall said during a press conference Wednesday that 22 local, state and federal agencies partnered up for "Operation Tri Point" over the period of March 19-28 to tackle human trafficking in Katy and Fort Bend County.
Wall said 47 people were arrested in total; 27 of whom were females, 20 were males. Eight were confirmed victims and eight were charged with human-trafficking related offenses. Wall said other charges such as sexual assault of a child, possession of a controlled substance and unlawful carrying of a weapon were also filed.
"What we know is that human trafficking is occurring. It’s not just an inner city problem," Wall said. "It’s occurring out in the suburbs. It’s occurring in smaller communities."
The youngest victim was 16 years old and another victim was a runaway, according to Wall. He added most of the recruiting occurs online and through social media.
"I would say as much as 90 percent [occurs online] and through social media," Wall said. "Young adults spend an enormous amount of time on social media and they are vulnerable…They don’t understand the risk involved."
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Wall did not explain how the task force apprehended the traffickers and discovered the victims, but said resident tips and help from the community played a part in similar undercover stings.
Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middleton said the sting is a step in the right direction toward eliminating trafficking in the area.
"My office is committed to eradicating this problem in Fort Bend County," Middleton said. "We realize it’s a serious issue and we are committed to combating it and making sure that Fort Bend County is safe and that these traffickers are run out of our county."
Wall said the victims uncovered in the investigation will be given the appropriate support and services they need.
"We understand they are scared to come forward but we are going to do everything we can in our power to give them the services they need to move forward with their life," Wall said.
According to Wall, many of the cases were first-degree felonies that can a carry of sentence of 20 to 99 years in prison. He said some of the cases will be filed in federal court and can have mandatory sentencing of 20 to 40 years in prison.
Wall said the investigation is still ongoing and other possible victims could be uncovered.
"Through time hopefully we will develop more leads and identity other victims and that’s our goal in these operations," Wall said. "This process could take months."
Wall added similar undercover operations will be conducted throughout the Houston area.
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