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Anyone who participated — by renting a hotel room for a minor, for instance — could be charged with the same crime.It was a watershed moment that turned a previously ineffective law into a powerful tool, said Kirsta Melton, a career prosecutor who helped write the law and now leads the Texas attorney general's year-old sex-trafficking unit.That leaves law enforcement with few tools but age to help distinguish victims from perpetrators.Because cases with adult victims are more difficult to prosecute, there’s also less incentive to pursue them.Laws the state uses to put sex traffickers behind bars can sweep up their prey, too.A few years in age can mean the difference between a chance at rehabilitation and a lengthy prison sentence, as Yvette learned.More sophisticated operators shield themselves from culpability by designating "bottom girls" — women who manage other sex workers, rent the hotel rooms and communicate with potential customers.

But the laws used to secure those convictions can fail to distinguish victim from perpetrator, meaning Texas' mission to put traffickers behind bars is sweeping up their prey, too.But as an adult who showed a teenager the ropes while they were both being sold for sex, he said, Yvette was just as guilty the pimp.In other circumstances, Yvette would have been considered a victim.An older relative in the house had been molesting her since she was a child."My mom would always wonder why, but I would never tell her," she said.

SAN ANTONIO — The day after her 23rd birthday, Yvette sat in in a Bexar County courtroom, facing up to 99 years in prison for exploiting a 16-year-old girl.

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