A recent undercover investigation and prostitution sting conducted by the Clarksville Police Special Operations Unit led to the arrest of two people and shed light on the alarming increase in human trafficking cases reported in Clarksville and Tennessee.
The Undercover Operation
For months, the CPD has been targeting prostitution in Clarksville near Exit 4 of Interstate 24. A recent sting operation in mid-March led to the arrest of a man and woman, both charged with the human trafficking of a 17-year-old girl along with several other prostitution charges including prostitution, promoting prostitution, exploitation of a minor, and aggravated rape.
The CPD said that the prostitution investigation focused on a social media website called Backpage.com. In recent years law enforcement has seen prostitution move to the internet, especially to social media sites like Backpage.com. Many factors make Clarksville a prime breeding ground for illegal activity such as prostitution: an increasingly transient military and college population, location near a major metropolitan region, a major interstate highway and a major river network combined with the rise of social media sites.
Movement of prostitution to the internet has also led to an increase in cases of human trafficking not only in Clarksville, but across the state. According to a 2011 study by the TBI, 94 minors are trafficked a month in Tennessee. The same study found that between 16 and 25 human trafficking cases were reported in Montgomery County alone. However, experts say most human trafficking cases go unreported. Again, law enforcement attributes the number of cases reported in Montgomery County to its geographic location, as well as its growing population.
Tennessee Law defines Patronizing Prostitution as “soliciting or hiring another person with the intent that the other person engage in prostitution.”
Promoting Prostitution means “owning, controlling, managing, supervising…a business for the purpose of engaging in prostitution.”
Aggravated prostitution occurs when “knowing that such person is infected with HIV, the person engages in sexual activity as a business.”
Prostitution charges carry serious penalties. Prostitution and patronizing prostitution are both Class B misdemeanors punishable by a maximum fine of $500 and up to 6 months incarceration. If committed within 100 feet of a church or within 1 ½ miles of a school, both become Class A misdemeanors, punishable by a maximum fine of $2,500 and up to 11 months and 29 days of incarceration in a local jail. If committed within 1 ½ miles of a school, a person will receive a minimum sentence of 7 days incarceration and be fined at least $1,000 in addition to any other authorized punishment.
Patronizing prostitution from a minor or from a person with an intellectual disability is a Class E felony punishable by a maximum fine of $3,000 and a maximum of 6 years of incarceration. Beginning July 1, 2014, patronizing prostitution from a minor or from a person with an intellectual disability will be punishable as trafficking for commercial sex acts. In Tennessee, promoting prostitution of a minor is already punishable as trafficking for commercial sex acts.
Aggravated prostitution is a Class C felony and is punishable by a minimum fine of $10,000 and up to 15 years of incarceration.
It is best to avoid the risks of engaging in prostitution or related activities. But if you are arrested and charged with prostitution or human trafficing, it is important that you seek an experienced attorney to help you through the legal process. Christopher G. Clark is a former prosecutor who has both defended and prosecuted these crimes. If you are charged, call him at Patton & Pittman for a free consultation.