Reason Roundup

Another Bogus 'Sex Trafficking Sting' Led by Homeland Security Agents

Plus: Everyone loves conspiracy theories, against national rent control, and more...


The Department of Homeland Security is playing vice cop, again, while pretending that the agency is striking a blow against "sex trafficking." Texas media (and a few national outlets, like The Daily Caller) are abuzz with headlines about the 46 men arrested in a "Texas sex trafficking sting" spearheaded by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Forty-six arrests? This must have been some sort of major sex trafficking ring … right?

Not at all. As is almost always the case when you see big "sex trafficking" arrest numbers, those arrested here simply agreed to pay someone they thought was an independent adult sex worker for sexual activity.

This is, of course, prostitution—a crime, yes, but one that many consider victimless and think should be decriminalized. It is not sex trafficking—which, legally, must involve force, fraud, coercion, or minors, and in the popular imagination involves kidnapping, confinement, shadowy cabals, and organized crime.

Police, federal officials, activists, and a lot of media frequently conflate prostitution and sex trafficking. The former is a pretty hum-drum story, while the latter conveys novelty, danger, and law enforcement heroism. Many people object to police wasting resources trying to trick men into committing petty crimes. But "fighting sex trafficking" has a more noble ring to it.

In this case, tricking men into committing petty crimes is exactly what happened. Undercover cops posted ads online pretending to be adult sex workers and then arrested the people who agreed to pay the undercover officers for sex.

Making this all the more galling is the fact that it's not just some bored local cops orchestrating the ruse, but a federal agency ostensibly dedicated to protecting Americans from transnational criminal organizations. "John Perez with Homeland Security Investigations oversaw [the] operation," notes CBS News Dallas-Forth Worth (one of a few media outlets that were at least honest about this being a prostitution sting).

"We had a high school teacher, who is also a football coach, we had a youth pastor," Perez, a supervisory special agent for HSI Dallas, told CBS, describing clients they arrested. "We had a volunteer firefighter, a director of operations of one of the large medical systems here in the metroplex, we also had a semi pro hockey player who plays on the Allen team as well."

I guess Perez expects people to be shocked that people with ordinary or respectable jobs might try to pay for sex. But all I see here is a federal agency that claims to be about fighting organized transnational crime spending its time plotting the arrest of high school teachers, firefighters, and youth pastors for trying to engage in private and consensual activity. That's the actually shocking element here.

HSI then has the gall to pretend they're solving serious crimes: "Thwarting sex trafficking is one of our agency's top priorities," special agent Lester R. Hayes said in a news release.


Everyone loves conspiracy theories. 


Against nationwide rent control policies. "Ideas that start on the progressive fringes have a way of becoming government policy these days," notes the Wall Street Journal in a warning about the push for President Joe Biden to institute nationwide rent control. Despite the fact that rents have been decreasing lately, Democrats are using their peak-pandemic rise to call for pursuing "all possible strategies to end corporate price gouging in the real estate sector and ensure that renters and people experiencing homelessness across this country are stably housed this winter," as they wrote to Biden in a recent letter.

"Democrats want the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which supervises government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to establish 'anti-price gouging protections' and 'just cause eviction standards' in rental properties with government-backed mortgages. These are their euphemisms for rent control and eviction bans," the Journal's editorial board states.

Price gouging is a favorite boogeyman on the left. Rather than believe there are sometimes legitimate reasons for rents or other price signals to go up, Democrats choose to blame greed—a myth that conveniently lends itself to them stepping in with more regulation.

"But more than 70% of rental properties are owned by individuals, many of whom are seniors and live off the payments," notes the Journal. "They have to pay bills, too, including mortgage interest payments, property taxes, insurance and maintenance, all of which have increased with inflation." In other words, there are good reasons to raise rents sometimes.

With strict controls on what can be charged for rent and when people can be evicted, it will make it a lot harder for independent landlords to stay in the game. But driving out independent landlords who rent out one or a few properties could have the opposite effect than what Democrats desire. If it becomes too hard for individuals and families to rent out properties, that means even more rental properties managed by big companies. Corporate landlords—often based outside of the city or state they own in—may be less flexible, less responsive to tenant needs, and more likely to raise rents. Meanwhile, these companies purchasing all sorts of single-family homes to turn them into rentals could further exacerbate our shortage of homes to buy and further drive up prices.

Reason's Christian Britschgi has more on the Democrats' bad housing policy agenda here. (See also: "Biden's Housing Equity Plan Is More Likely To Waste Resources Than Curtail Zoning.")


• How the U.S. government amassed $31 trillion in debt.

• The Department of Justice is getting ready to sue Google. (Again.)

• "Nonparents—grandparents, aunts, older siblings—are routinely separated from migrant youth at the border, despite federal efforts to keep families together, according to immigrant advocates," notes USA Today, telling the story of one asylum-seeking grandmother who is still separated from her 3-year-old granddaughter despite being the girl's main caregiver. "The families are separated under a U.S. law designed to shield asylum-seeking minors from child traffickers and other threats, but the policy often ends up breaking up families and traumatizing children."

• Former President Donald Trump and Sen. J.D. Vance (R–Ohio) are urging colleagues not to cut Social Security. "Refusing even to consider changes to Social Security might be a tidy way to pander to older Americans, but it's not a functional plan for entitlements. In fact, it's actually an impossible situation," Reason's Eric Boehm writes.

• A pro–school choice bill just passed in Iowa. "In the bill, HF 68, any family with a K-12 student who wants to switch from public to private school during the next school year would receive roughly $7,600 from the state—the full amount of taxpayer money the state invests in every student," KCCI News reports.

• Texas rejected a tofu-promoting animal rights activists' proposed "LVTOFU" license plate because the state said it could be read in a vulgar way.

• A class-action lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) alleges that the agency kept hundreds of children in juvenile incarceration after a judge ordered their release because the agency could not find appropriate placements for them. Reason's Emma Camp has more details here.

• How third parties die.