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Photo Essay: Houston’s Sex Trade in Nine Objects

A sobering look at the lives of Houston’s trafficked sex workers, these items will form part of the first museum of modern day slavery located at Elijah Rising.

Photography by Brian Goldman February 2, 2015 Published in the February 2015 issue of Houstonia Magazine

These objects were found in the wild, in places that are without law, where morals are replaced with money, and power comes from subjugating young women and men. Everything seen here exists as part of an environment where human beings are used as objects of pleasure and financial gain. 

The photos at first glance are simple stills, set within a complementary color arrangement and abstracted from their origins. A closer look should reveal a psychically tense image and, hopefully, an obvious message.

This photo essay from Houstonia photographer-in-residence Brian Goldman is a companion to Houstonia’s February 2015 story "Sex Traffickers, Meet Your Worst Nightmare."


Periodically, a vehicle will head north on Highway 281, containing Mexican children whose parents have saved enough money to provide them “safe passage” into Texas. Shortly before arriving at the border checkpoint, the vehicle stops and the young women are guided on foot to an outhouse. It is here that the women learn the true fate their posessors have in store for them. Anyone who puts up a struggle is raped, and their clothing hung from a tree to signal to others that another has “fallen.” A few years ago, a site near the border checkpoint at Falfurrias, Texas was raided by law enforcement. This bra was found hanging from a tree.

Left: “The Gold Shackle”

This shackle was found along the Trans-Atlantic Slave Route at Plantation in Virginia. To “protect” their assets, slaveholders kept their slaves shackled. The Gold Shackle represents the economics involved in a billion dollar industry where power comes at the expense of freedom.

Right: “The Modern Day Shackle”

This shoe was found after the Houston cantina known as Las Palmas was raided by law enforcement.  Women are forced to wear clothing like this shoe to attract business. This type of clothing marks them as business property and is considered a modern day shackle.

“Sexual Violence”

A Coyote’s makeshift knifte was found with a compass along a trafficking route on the Texas-Mexico border.

“Sexual Translation”

This dictionary was found in a bedroom from a Brothel off FM 1960 in Houston, where many of the young Asian women know little to any English. It is thought that the dictionary is used to understand the expectations of their clients.


Hairspray cans such as this one were found after a series of Harris County trafficking raids.  Establishments that fronted as spas would keep condoms and other illicit items disguised by hiding them within hairspray cans.


This calendar was found inside a Houston brothel. It indicates the income expected by a trafficking victim per day. Reconciled totals would be listed along the bottom. Often these sheets would show the total debt due to a trafficker and the progress made each day.


This sign was found at King Spa off FM1960.  Spas are often fronts for trafficking activities.

“Modern Abolitionists”

Elijah Rising’s Cat French is one of many who consider themselves as modern abolitionists. Her ideology is rooted in the early abolitionist movement established by figures such as The Salvation Army founder William Booth.

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