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Cat French, founder of anti-trafficking organization Elijah Rising, has by her count rescued two dozen sex trade victims and shut down 13 brothels. There, they will confront, face-to-face, pimps, prostitutes, and whatever else emerges from the sordid shadows. She reminds the crowd of one recent incident in which some Houston cantina girls nude members were forced to bolt out of a cantina after encountering unsavory characters who looked like they might reach for weapons.

French freely confesses to having a low tolerance Houston cantina girls nude rules, and places few restrictions on those who volunteer on behalf of Elijah Rising. Still, there are limits. Participants who interact with women in the streets must pledge to abstain from such things as premarital sex, pornography, weapons, and judgment.

Male volunteers, she notes, are particularly vulnerable to flirtatious advances by women in the trade. With that, the volunteers divide into five separate groups, each with a different destination. Group One will go to hotels along Highway 59 and pass out information about sex trafficking to staffers working the front desk.

Group Two—known as the Pancake group—will work a strip in southwest Houston known for prostitution, and hopefully lure a few young women to a nearby IHOP, where they will stage an intervention. Volunteers in the field frequently check in with news of miraculous occurrences: dangers narrowly averted, random strangers who suddenly appear offering assistance. Each instance of divine providence is logged and tracked, and miracles are commonplace. There was the time a sex worker came down with a toothache at just the right moment, which led Elijah workers to take her to a hour emergency dentist, and then a subsequent intervention.

It is the mission of the final group—Group Five—that makes it the most unpredictable and therefore dangerous. Ten or so bilingual volunteers—several Hispanic women in their early 20s, a couple of pastors from Hispanic congregations, and a smattering of random young people from all over town—will attempt to penetrate the cantina sex trade. We are in Group Five. Thick screws that once fastened the in-house ATM are still visible in the concrete floor beside the front door, as is the pane of Plexiglas that once separated a hapless row of young, Southeast Asian women from the men who wanted to rent them out by the hour.

Straight ahead and down a narrow hallway, the windowless complex opens onto a larger, dimly lit chamber lined by private showers where, we are told, customers were bathed at the outset to check for police wires and weapons. The showers are empty now, almost. After all, the longtime human trafficking activist spent nearly a decade trying to close it down. She never succeeded, however, as a lengthy Texas Monthly article documented in Laster still refers to the building by its address——betraying a weary familiarity with her former foe.

It was just a brothel. At that time, according to her calculations,cars drove by the brothel each day. You get the sense that Cat French minus the mohawk, the tattoos, and the towering frame would still be intimidating. A perpetually tense year-old whose demeanor suggests an incapacity for levity though this is not the caseshe appears just one leather jacket and Harley away from ing a biker gang.

Those were her Marxist days, as she terms them, before French transitioned out of academic life and began fighting human trafficking full-time in She does things her own way and it rubs some people the wrong way. Police estimates generally fall in the to range. The place is outsize, imperious, and notorious—and so, of course, is French. The surrounding area, just southwest of the Galleria, is littered with businesses connected to the commercial sex trade.

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She believes there are 12 separate brothels within just a few blocks of Elijah Rising, some openly advertising as massage parlors or spas, others disguising themselves as after-hours nightclubs. French has one of the latter in her sights, a nondescript, run-down, two-story townhouse surrounded by mechanic shops and warehouses just a few blocks away. Out front are Christmas lights and a pair of large nude female statues, plus a pair of hulking bouncers near the door. Somehow, however, the establishment has eluded the authorities anyway. And that, French says enthusiastically, is exactly why hers is the perfect location from which to launch an offensive.

Just then, French is interrupted by the arrival of a middle-aged Hispanic man at the door. He awkwardly peeks inside Elijah Rising, stumbles a moment, and then tells Houston cantina girls nude he is looking for a massage. That has ruffled feathers, especially in the church world. On the plus side, her predicament engendered a certain callousness that permits French to absorb more human suffering than most, or so she believes.

Inhowever, after attending a conference on human trafficking in San Francisco, French began to grow restless. Friends told other friends, and before French knew it she was acquiring a seat passenger van to keep pace with demand. It was around this time that her academic career came to a close.

Such tours, which French estimates she has given to more than 5, people in the past six years, have been criticized by public officials. French stopped her van in front of the spa for two solid years, even tape-recorded a confrontation with the landlord. The woman promptly canceled the contract, and shortly thereafter, French says, a defamation of character lawsuit from the landlord arrived in her mailbox. It was like getting a gift. The suit allowed her to draw media attention to her cause and again confront the landlord.

This time the man claimed to be ignorant of the goings-on in the spa, at which time French reminded him that she had him on tape admitting otherwise. The mood is undeniably tense as we head east on I, and members of the group begin taking turns praying aloud.

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A middle-aged woman starts speaking in tongues, but the surrounding prayers have grown louder, so no one seems to notice. It is just after 10 p. Bar Caliente it is called, and the thumping beat of conjunto music pours out into a potholed parking lot packed with dusty pickup trucks. They do so, awkwardly making their way to a table near the corner of the room.

There are maybe 15 other people in the bar, mostly blue-collar men in jeans and baseball caps, along with scantily clad young Hispanic women in skirts and high-heels, sitting on stools at the bar. Each immediately cranes her neck backwards to take in the painfully out-of-place newcomers, all of whom are too scared to approach the bar and talk to them. Four minutes into it, the mission is scuttled, and everyone is back in the van feeling defeated. Bythe group has driven to two more cantinas but still failed to make a single intervention. Other people tried to put out my fire.

She put gasoline on my fire.

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She tried working for several secular anti-trafficking groups but ed Elijah Rising because of its commitment to victims no matter where they are. They Houston cantina girls nude, as she does, that these are The Last Days, and that saving the enslaved is of utmost importance. For her part, French says she is an unapologetic member of the Apostolic-Prophetic Movement, a Pentecostal offshoot. Theirs is a battle so fraught with pain and danger, staffers say, it can only be effectively fought if one is empowered by Jesus, whose name is thrown around the office like that of a friendly relative no one has actually met.

This shared sense of desperation is what attracts staffers to French and her commanding presence, Goatley says. People willing to risk their lives for a cause have always been labeled thus. Meddling in the affairs of human traffickers is an unquestionably dangerous undertaking. A criminal industry that generates billions of dollars in profit every year, the brutish criminal underworld that traffickers and their victims inhabit is complicated and unpredictable, says Misa Nguyen, the deputy director of United Against Human Trafficking, a coalition of Houston-area nonprofits that works closely Houston cantina girls nude law enforcement to fight trafficking.

Another reason to involve law enforcement, Nguyen says, is that it remains the only entity capable of investigating crimes and building cases that not only rescue victims, but prosecute traffickers. If members of the public want to fight trafficking, she says, they should start by raising awareness or supporting organizations involved in the struggle already.

It is a good idea, but one that the volunteers greet with uncertainty. They decide to pretend for the sake of the cause, at which point Group Five enters yet another run-down one-story building with pickup trucks out front. The dance floor is bathed in colorful, spinning lights and loud Mexican pop, but lies mostly empty. Men of all ages, some in Wrangler jeans and cowboy hats, others tattooed and wearing baggy shorts, play pool, sit at the bar, or gather in groups in the shadows.

Unlike the young women at the other bars the group has visited this evening, those in La Estrella make their presence felt. At least a dozen of them hover around the bar in short, thigh-clinging skirts, low-cut tops and glossy high-heels. They stumble from one group of men to the next like waitresses without trays of food, their eyes glassy and their steps uneasy, until all at once a stranger grabs one of them by the waist, pulls her close, and drunkenly le her to the dance floor.

Occasionally, the young woman in high heels is actually a young man, which nobody but Group Five seems to notice. We look at each other, eyebrows raised.

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The volunteers take their seats at a table near the entrance and the usual stares ensue, but at La Estrella the dizzying lights and dark shadows provide more cover. After several minutes, two male members of the group get up the nerve to push through the crowd and order some beers at the bar. Moments later, three scantily dressed women approach and ask in broken English if the men will buy them a couple of Bud Lights.

Wearing woozy smiles, two of the women explain that they are originally from Mexico, have children, and frequent La Estrella regularly. Then, without missing a beat, the oldest of the three points to the bartender. The bartender nods. It is the first step in what promises to be a series of cash transactions, each successive exchange leading to a new level of talking. But before any money can trade hands, three female members of Elijah Rising appear from behind, encircling the young women and introducing themselves in Spanish.

The trio of apparent sex workers looks confused, but remains temporarily cooperative as the male volunteers peel away, retreating to the sidelines to avoid temptation and keep an eye out for trouble. Despite the music, the dancing, and the swirling crowd, the entire sequence unfolds in plain sight next to the bar, and some in the crowd appear Houston cantina girls nude be aware that La Estrella has been infiltrated by some sort of network.

From that point on, a sense of uneasiness seems to descend on the bar. The faces of Elijah members, but also bar-goers, register a vague terror, as if something terrible might happen at any moment. What kind of something? No one in La Estrella seems to be sure. All anyone can do is read nods and glances, look for patterns in body language that may or may not exist. The patrons wonder if the stone-faced men watching from the shadows pose a threat, if the suburban Christians milling about their bar are tolerable oddities.

The conversation comes to an end, and the volunteers hand each of the three women a card with a helpline. Outside, the feeling of being liberated from the dingy cantina is almost palpable. Back at the van, Houston cantina girls nude has been idling at an adjacent gas station all this time, the group is preparing to head home when suddenly they spot the three women from the cantina.

After a moment of hesitation, one of the pastors hops out of the van and approaches them. Two get inside the van, but a third stops to listen to him. She is very young, with long brown hair, and wears tight black pants and a low-cut top. She nods, and then, moments later, begins sobbing and shaking her head.

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