Posted March 29, 2017 12:54 pm - Updated March 29, 2017 01:47 pm

First-of-its-kind lawsuit alleges motel owners allowed sex trafficking in Houston (Sarah Rafique’s blog)

Janice Charleze, whose 21-year-old daughter Natalie Irene Fisher was murdered in Houston last September, filed the first civil action lawsuit of its kind under the state’s 2009 human trafficking statute, according to Hotze Runkle Law Firm, the attorney representing her.

“In 2009 the Texas Legislature made businesses that intentionally and knowingly benefit from the trafficking of another person civilly liable,” Texas Tech graduate and attorney Ross Bussard said in a news release. “Economic bondage tying the victim to the trafficker is just one of the ways perpetrators keep people in servitude. Texas law provides these victims a chance at a life free of sexual slavery.”

Charleze said in the news release that she learned about the law too late to save her daughter, who has two young children of her own.

“Had I known we could have held these hotel owners accountable for turning a blind eye to Natalie’s suffering we could have gotten her away from her traffickers,” Charleze said. “She tried to leave so many times but by then she was so emotionally and physically abused she couldn’t see that there was any life left for her outside of what she was doing.”

Fisher was trafficked for two years, including at a Plainfield Inn in Houston, the lawsuit alleges, and her body was found Sept. 23, 2016, in a ditch less than 10 miles from the motel.

“Defendants were and remain aware of the illegal activities, including human trafficking, at the Plainfield Inn and yet still rent rooms to known pimps and drug dealers to conduct the illegal activities complained of herein on their premises,” the lawsuit alleges. “Defendants tolerate these illegal activities because in doing so they have acquired a steady stream of income from renting rooms to those conducting these activities.”

Previous media reports out of Houston indicate no suspects or witnesses had been identified after the discovery of her body. Anyone with information is urged to call the Houston Police Department’s Homicide Division at 713-308-3600 or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-8477.

If you or someone you know has been trafficked and needs help, call your local law enforcement agency. Victims should call 911 if they are in immediate danger. The Lubbock Police Department’s non-emergency number is (806) 775-2865.

To get help or report a tip, call National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s 24/7 toll-free hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or email nhtrc@polarisproject.org. Tips can also be sent via text message between 3 and 11 p.m. to “BeFree” (233733).

For more information about an upcoming event in Lubbock aimed at combatting sex trafficking, click here.

Note: We do not identify victims of sex-related crimes, however Charleze has been open with the media about the case and her lawyer provided photos of Fisher for publication.