After a Year Combating Human Trafficking, Houston Coffee Shop Looks for New Location to Continue Fight

Categories: Crime

Nearly a year after first opening its doors, A 2nd Cup is looking for a new home.
Erica Raggett always dreamed of opening a coffee shop. Every time she walked into one, she scouted the place -- sometimes aware, sometimes subconsciously. Whether as a Teach for America instructor in a north Houston middle school, or while she spent time in Philadelphia as a TFA administrator, or after a return to work as a YES Prep teacher in Houston, Raggett never wavered.

"I always loved coffee shops -- to go there to work, or to study, or just to spend time," Raggett, who helps run A 2nd Cup coffee shop, told Hair Balls earlier this week. Sitting next to her husband, Mark, Raggett was explaining her affinity for the independent shops that have begun to pepper Houston over the past few years.

But at the same time, Raggett couldn't just toss herself into something without knowing there was something larger to be gained. "I couldn't imagine working somewhere and not helping others," she said. And so the notion of the coffee shop sat, remaining but an idea while Raggett and her husband helped the students at YES with science and math.

And then, come late 2010, Raggett joined her husband for an event at their local church. It was a presentation from Love146, a Connecticut-based organization founded to combat child trafficking and exploitation. "They brought this camera into a brothel [in Thailand], and you could see all these girls just lined up," Raggett recounted, discussing the preteens available for the sex tourists. "And their eyes -- they had these eyes that were just empty. There was nothing there. And there was one girl, she was No. 146. She looked like she just got there, because she just had some fight left in her eyes."

That young woman, nameless and numbered, had inspired Love146 to spend the previous decade working to combat child trafficking. The group was simply looking for donations from members of the Houston church that Erica and Mark attended. Instead, while Erica and Mark watched this girl, this 146, peer back, something coalesced.

"What if I used a coffee shop to stop human trafficking?" Raggett remembers wondering. "And it really was a brilliant idea," adds Mark, who immediately jumped aboard the notion. Soon, a name came to them -- A 2nd Cup. A second chance. Another shot at another life for the victims, especially the children, of human trafficking.

Of course, the process would be neither quick nor simple. While the responses ranged from supportive to ecstatic -- "There were really only positive feedback that we got," says Raggett -- hurdles remained. Filing for a 501(c)(3) exemption revealed a handful of other coffee shops around the country that offered similar ideas, running from basic nonprofits to gangland rehabilitation. But there was nothing about trafficking. Nor was there anything in Houston. This was entirely new.

In an entirely unfortunate way, Houston was in prime position to host a trafficking-focused coffee shop. A quarter of all American-based trafficking victims are in Texas, with a plurality coming within Houston. Cantinas, massage parlors, secluded houses and apartments -- the locations are as innocuous as they are difficult to shutter. Just a few weeks ago, 500 Indians were freed from Signal International LLC, which lawyers claimed treated the immigrants as modern indentured servants.

But Raggett's business plan found a receptive audience. Meetings with local figures, as well as a happenstance run-in with local roaster Matt Toomey, helped spread the word. A board coalesced. Designs were drawn up. Pastors at the Vineyard Church, where Erica and Mark heard the initial Love146 presentation, got wind of the plans, and offered up a little-used space to the pair.

"It really was a terrifically unattractive space," says Mark, scrolling through photos of what the room once housed. Cobbling together a team of 50 volunteers -- some they knew, some they'd never met -- Erica and Mark began rehabbing the place last summer. Graphic stencils dotted the walls, and couches soon replaced the empty expanse. The team even covered the floor in artistic, mesmerizing rhombi. Soon, where once lay a bare, unassuming space now stood one of the most appealing -- both aesthetically and altruistically -- locations for Houston coffee-drinkers.

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It's good to see that the Houston Press is giving a voice to advocates that help victims of human trafficking. However...isn't Houston Press also part of the problem when they promote advertising and take money from these pimps through their classifieds. Houston Press classifieds are notorious for ads that enable fake massage etc. to get the word out about some of these various places that exploit these young women.

I am a legitimate, massage therapist but would never advertise in Houston Press, because I'd basically be asking for phone calls from every perv out there. These fake massage places and ads hurt and victimize these young girls and are a headache and insult for those of us who are professionals. If we want to really help these victims, we need to start by shutting these fake "massage parlours" down, and then helping these women by arresting and prosecuting the pimps instead of the owners. And you guys who are renting retail space and assisting with advertisement...well you should be ashamed! Not to mention the johns...don't fool yourself into thinking these exploited women, many foreign and underage are consenting adults...Please Houston Press, tell me you can get get better clients. Thanks, hope this opinion is helpful


oops! wrote without proofreading..Meant to say arrest the pimps and owners instead of the prostitutes. 

These girls need our help, and these people who are exploiting them need to be locked away and prevented from hurting others.

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