A Houston trafficking victim wants her trafficker to pay up.

In a motion filed Dec. 15, the victim requested restitution from Hortencia “Tencha” Medels Arguello, who allegedly forced the victim and others to work without pay in Houston-area brothels, according to an article in the Houston Chronicle. A judge is expected to sentence Arguello in January.

It’s highly unlikely the victim will be successful. A 2014 review of sex and labor trafficking cases found victims seldom received restitution from their traffickers, despite federal law requiring convicted traffickers to pay victims lost wages.

According the review, courts granted the victims compensation in only 36 percent of cases. Sex trafficking victims were least likely to receive money, and when they did, received far less than labor trafficking victims.

Researchers also found prosecutors played an important role. Courts were much more likely to grant restitution when prosecutors filed memos requesting it. When prosecutors did not get involved, victims were granted compensation in only 12 percent of cases.

In the Houston case, an attorney representing the victim filed the motion. The victim requested $500,000 in unpaid wages, lost wages and attorney fees. She was 15 years old when she met a man in Mexico who courted her and convinced her to come to the United States. When she arrived, she said, the man’s behavior changed. He told her he owed the smugglers money and that she had to work to pay off the debt. She began working in the brothels at 16 years old.

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Shoshana Walter

Shoshana Walter is a reporter for Reveal, covering criminal justice. She and reporter Amy Julia Harris exposed how courts across the country are sending defendants to rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry. Their work was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in national reporting. It also won the Knight Award for Public Service, a Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting, and an Edward R. Murrow Award, and was a finalist for the Selden Ring, IRE and Livingston Awards. It led to numerous government investigations, two criminal probes and five federal class-action lawsuits alleging slavery, labor violations and fraud.

Walter's investigation on America's armed security guard industry revealed how armed guard licenses have been handed out to people with histories of violence, even people barred by courts from owning guns. Walter and reporter Ryan Gabrielson won the 2015 Livingston Award for Young Journalists for national reporting based on the series, which prompted new laws and an overhaul of California’s regulatory system. For her 2016 investigation about the plight of "trimmigrants," marijuana workers in California's Emerald Triangle, Walter embedded herself in illegal mountain grows and farms. There, she encountered an epidemic of sex abuse and human trafficking in the industry – and a criminal justice system focused more on the illegal drugs. The story prompted legislation, a criminal investigation and grass-roots efforts by the community, including the founding of a worker hotline and safe house.

Walter began her career as a police reporter for The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida, and previously covered violent crime and the politics of policing in Oakland, California, for The Bay Citizen. Her narrative nonfiction as a local reporter garnered a national Sigma Delta Chi Award and a Gold Medal for Public Service from the Florida Society of News Editors. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, she has been a Dart Center Ochberg fellow for journalism and trauma at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim fellow in criminal justice journalism. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.