Herald reporter Lincoln Tan got more than he bargained for when he went on a trip to the US to investigate human trafficking to New Zealand.

It was one of those typical dark, smoky strip clubs. Four scantily dressed women were mingling with customers.

The counter of the Houston bar was teeming with customers, nearly all African-American men.

A female journalist I was with wanted a story and started talking with some of these customers.

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The bar in Houston's prostitution hot spot where a Herald reporter was threatened with a gun. Picture / Lincoln Tan
The bar in Houston's prostitution hot spot where a Herald reporter was threatened with a gun. Picture / Lincoln Tan

That was when the trouble started.

A guy emerged from the back and told me this was his "turf" and said to get my "lady" to back off.

I tried explaining to the man that I wasn't a pimp and the two women I was with were not prostitutes.

Instead, he flashed a small revolver he had under his sweat shirt pocket and warned this could be my last night out if I didn't "get the f*** out".

I went to the front to get my journalist friend and came back to our table to find the third member of our group gone.

If I wasn't panicking earlier, I sure was now. The man came back and asked why we were still around.

Then he pointed his gun at my stomach from under his pocket, and my heart rate spiked.

I imagined myself getting shot, bleeding and not making it back to New Zealand alive.

If I had been alone I would have run out but there were two other lives involved.

With my mind in a semi-blank state, I grabbed the other journalist and headed straight out the door and was relieved to find the third journalist had already left the bar.

That was on Bissonnet St, Houston. The 2.1km stretch between the Southwest Freeway and Beltway 8 is the city's hotspot for prostitution, drugs, violence and trafficking.

A sex worker on Bissonnet Track, Houston's red light district. Photo / Lincoln Tan
A sex worker on Bissonnet Track, Houston's red light district. Photo / Lincoln Tan

The Houston Police Department Vice Division had just finished briefing journalists on human trafficking in the city.

Some of Houston's neighbourhoods were harder hit than others, none more than Bissonnet St, we were told.

Seven of the 20 journalists, including myself, asked to be dropped off on "The Track" — as the place is known — just to get a feel for the area.

It was in one of the bars on that street I was mistaken for a pimp and threatened with a gun.

Houston Police said shootings were common there, and guns were used by gangs to intimidate and control.

A businesswoman didn't want her face shown on camera during an interview with KPRC Channel 2 News because earlier complaints to police about prostitution had ended with a pair of gunshots through her front windows.

Luckily no one was inside at the time.

On this night, I experienced first hand the kind of gun terror that American sex workers were telling me about.

A woman enters one of the bars on Bissonnet Track in Houston's red light district. Photo / Lincoln Tan
A woman enters one of the bars on Bissonnet Track in Houston's red light district. Photo / Lincoln Tan

But they have to live with it while I get to go home to New Zealand.

A few days after my encounter at the bar, a woman was shot to death while sitting in a car at a petrol station just a short distance from there.