How the crusade against sex trafficking in Texas has left child victims behind.

When it comes to punishing the sex traffickers who exploit Texas kids, state leaders are unforgiving: Their crimes are "vile," "heinous," "despicable," "unconscionable."

Texas Tribune reporters talked to three convicted traffickers to try to understand the power they wield over victims and the attraction of what they call "the lifestyle." They explained how vulnerable kids end up in the sex trade and how the business works. The interviews also revealed a common thread between pimps and their victims: the poverty and violence in their backgrounds.

Jasmine Johnson, 26, is serving a 25-year sentence for trafficking a minor — a young victim the Tribune is featuring in this series. Johnson still maintains her innocence in that case, though she spoke openly about her experience as a pimp who led a group of eight adult women in Dallas.

Anthony Harris, 30, is serving a five-year prison sentence in Huntsville for a 2014 charge of compelling a minor into prostitution. He pleaded guilty. 

K.A., 25, is serving a life sentence for pimping out a 15-year-old runaway in San Antonio and murdering her boyfriend, crimes committed when he was 20. He would only consent to being identified by his initials, and he spoke in general terms about pimping — not about his own experiences.

Here they are in their own words, which have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

How did you first get into the sex trade?

Johnson: I guess 'cause my daddy wasn't a part of my life, I acted out. I hated to see my mama struggle. I just started hustling. I knew I always had pimping stuff in me, but I didn't call it that.

Really, the streets gave me the pimp title because I ain't never seen it like that. I just thought I was being a player or whatever. But like, when I'd see regular guys on the street, they'd be like, "Oh, you a pimp, I salute you."

Harris: I didn't feel like there was a lot of opportunity in Arkansas. So I came out here ... for school. School didn't work out ... I caught a drug charge.

I didn't have the money to go back to school, so I was just working odd jobs. I kind of started getting in the streets in Dallas. I was staying in hotels. Motel 6es, two-and-a-half, three-star hotels. A lot of girls frequent those hotels. So they used to have clients that come to those hotels. But sometimes they get rowdy. They're drunk, or they're high.

The girls see me so much in the room that they start to friend me. And they ask me to have their back. Don't let nobody hurt them while they do what they do. It just kinda started out like that.

Anthony Harris, 30, who is serving five years for compelling prostitution of a minor at a state prison in Huntsville, Texas, said working as a pimp doesn’t feel like a business — ”it feels like family.”

Anthony Harris, 30, who is serving five years for compelling prostitution of a minor at a state prison in Huntsville, Texas, said working as a pimp doesn’t feel like a business — ”it feels like family.” Callie Richmond for The Texas Tribune

How did you recruit girls to sell sex?

K.A.: If you meet a female, she don't got no family, she don't got nowhere to stay, but you got a little bit of money, you doing for her, you putting a roof over her head, feeding her ... she going to end up trusting you, depending on you.

Y'all have some talks about the future, selling her the dream. It's like, "Well, what are we going to do? What can we do? If you are really about this union, about this team, you are going to do this, it's on you."

You've got some females, they run their own, they manage theyselves. But most, they want a daddy to feel secure, to feel like they got somebody watching out for them.

Harris: A lot of people always think that somebody's making them do it or forcing them to do it. That's not the case. Most cases, these girls are already doing it. They're doing it on their own. It's just, they hate to be by themselves, or they can't take care of their money. 

It's just like any regular household. A man takes care of the household, so they feel like that's what they need the man there for. You feel like family. When you're looking out for somebody like that, it don't feel like a business. It feels like family. I got your back, you got mine. 

Johnson: If it's a new girl trying to get on my team, I have sex with them first because I know I can get in they head. Once I make love to them, or what they think is love, know what I'm saying, I really don't have no feelings behind it. I just be thinking about money. That's my main thing is money, so I be like, I have sex with them.

It was like I mind-fucked 'em. I was in they head.

And then after that, they just start giving me whatever I need. They give me all they money. They cater to me, they spoiled me. All of them did this for me. And even though I know it was kind of wrong for putting them through that because they ain't have to do it — but they chose to. I didn't make them. I didn't force them. It just ended up happening like that.

Jasmine Johnson, 26, is serving a 25-year sex-trafficking sentence at a women’s prison in Gatesville, Texas. Johnson said the streets of East Dallas gave her “the pimp title.”

Jasmine Johnson, 26, is serving a 25-year sex-trafficking sentence at a women’s prison in Gatesville, Texas. Johnson said the streets of East Dallas gave her “the pimp title.” Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

What draws people to pimping?

Johnson: I was in love with the money we was making. The money was good. 'Cause I ended up getting a car, and then I upgraded to a house. I was like, "OK. I ain't never had no house." 

And I don't like men, so I was gonna get artificial insemination. That's what I was saving my money for. I always wanted a child myself.

K.A.: It's like free money. You don't gotta re-up. If you sell drugs, you gotta pay for the drugs at a wholesale and then go back and stack yo' money. If you selling sex, that's something that you don't gotta re-up on. 

Do women who work in the sex trade face violence?

Johnson: I didn't beat my girls. I might fight them sometimes, like slap them or something, but I didn't beat them where I just beat them for no reason or something. It wasn't like that. We'd just fight. It wasn't all harsh. I didn't do them bad or nothing like that. I spoiled them like they spoiled me. They got what they wanted; I got what I wanted. They got they hair done and all of that stuff, buy them wigs and stuff like that, dance clothes, stuff they need to make their money. 

K.A.: You got some, they call them gorilla pimps, who if she stops after she's already begun, they feel like, well she said she game. They rough her up a little bit, so she's going to get back on the program.

You have some crazy folks out there. You got a lot of males, they gonna rape someone, they ain't gonna pay. There's a lot of prostitutes who ended up dead doing what they were doing. It's dangerous. It'd be treacherous out there.

Harris: The girl would text me and say, "His time is up, but he don't want to stop." I'd knock on the door. I stopped a lot of people from getting raped, hurt, beat up, just by my presence alone. I don't have to go in there and be no big macho guy. Just being around. If somebody know you've got somebody with you, the chances of you getting hurt are minimum to none. Especially if you're doing something dangerous.

Who were your clients?

K.A.: Just regular people, just average people. Truck drivers, they lonely, they got money, they be driving around places, they ain't got no wife with them.

Johnson: Every Friday, they get a check. They work on a construction site or something like that. And they get drunk every Friday. So I was like, "Y'all gonna go over there, have sex with them, and if they drop they pants, get the whole wallet, you know what I'm saying."

Harris: Most of them be businessmen with wives, you know, families. They don't be wanting any trouble. 

How did you turn a profit?

Harris: When you first start, you're making, getting, $100 a half-hour, or $150 a whole hour, or $200. I set up a plan for them. "How much money you can make? How much are you going to need to take care of you?"

You got a thing that's called [online] reviews. It all goes about how they dress, if they smell, if they look like they was a druggie, were they the girls in the pictures, did they get all the time they were supposed to get. What kind of fetishes they did. All of this goes into play with the rates. If you treat them fair, you know, they give you a good review. If they give you a good review, the more reviews you get, the more expensive your rates go. 

For an hour, you're getting $400, $500. That's if you follow the plan.

Johnson: They would come and tell me, "Hey, this dude want to have sex. He talking about it's gonna be $500 or something like that." And if it's a low amount, I'd be like, "No, he ain't trying to spend no bread. No." But $500 and up, I'd be like, "Yeah." Or $300, yeah, that's the lowest I'd go.

K.A.: Some might say $500, some might say $300. High-dollar female, you might send her to the Marriott with a politician or somebody who got some money like that, he may pay her $400. 

It's good money. If you pimping her, all that's yours. I'm not going to say it's all for you; it's yours, but you keep a house over her, I mean you feed her, you provide for her.

K.A., 25, a convicted sex trafficker, is serving a life sentence in a men's maximum-security prison in Tennessee Colony, Texas, for pimping out a 15-year-old runaway in San Antonio and murdering her boyfriend. K.A. said pimping is “like free money.”

K.A., 25, a convicted sex trafficker, is serving a life sentence in a men's maximum-security prison in Tennessee Colony, Texas, for pimping out a 15-year-old runaway in San Antonio and murdering her boyfriend. K.A. said pimping is “like free money.” Martin do Nascimento for The Texas Tribune

What would you say to other people who are still in the "lifestyle?"

Johnson: It's a lot of people trying to do this pimping thing, but it's gonna get you caught up. If you can't call no lawyer down there, you gonna end up in prison or end up dead.

I would say chill out on that pimping stuff because it ain't what's up no more. Everything's getting played out. Everything's old. The law's really hot on it.

Harris: I know anything illegal always comes to an end. So if you have to do it, I felt like, you know, you should have a goal to do it. If I hustle this long, I can put this money into going to college, or I can put this money to a trade, or I can get me a house. 

K.A.: We all playing a losing game, you know, and sooner or later everything is going to come out. You can do everything right, be smart, watch A through Z, but it's always, somewhere down the line, something you gonna miss, somewhere you gonna slip.

Editor's note: 

One of the reporters on this story, Neena Satija, also works for Reveal, a public radio show and podcast from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. Ryan Murphy was the lead developer on this story; Emily Albracht was the lead designer.

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