Hamilton County, TN

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

Hamilton County is a located in in the southern part of East Tennessee, on the border with Georgia and situated along the Tennessee River.  Its population is roughly 367,000 making it the fourth-most populous county in Tennessee. The county seat and population center is the city of Chattanooga. Other noteworthy communities within the county include East BrainerdEast Ridge, Ooltewah.

Prostitution activity has been well-documented in the communities throughout the county for decades.  This activity and the ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market are sex trafficking and related violence. For example, in 2012, a 23-year-old man was arrested in response to a report of an assault in Ooltewah.  Responding police said the woman who made the report had cuts on her arms, face and head, and said she had been picked up by a white male for prostitution, and was taken to a location on E. 23rd Street. She said the man attacked her there, beating her in the head with a hammer.  The man was later found and admitted to soliciting prostitution and the related assault. In January, 2013, a 21-year-old woman who was abducted and sex trafficked in the Chattanooga area was able to borrow a cell phone to call police. The case come a year after the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released a survey showing more than 100 people were trafficking victims in Hamilton County. That information came through reports collected from social services organizations.  In June, 2018, investigators spent two weeks focusing on human trafficking around motels in the Lee Highway and Bonny Oaks Drive areas. The local FBI office brought in the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office for their operation. They charged three people with sex trafficking and promoting prostitution. Investigators also removed a 15 year old female victim who was being  exploited in commercial sex trafficking.  Also in June, 2018, three women were arrested on prostitution charges following an undercover investigation prompted by complaints from the community about a spa in the 5500 block of Hixson Pike.

Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking, and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. Multiple cities within the county have implemented demand reduction tactics, sometimes with the support of county agencies.  For example, the first street-level reverse sting known to have occurred in Chattanooga was conducted in 1985; CPD officers have been conducting web-based reversals since at least 2007.  Arrestees’ names are routinely released to the public, and have been publicized in local media outlets since the 1980s.  For example, in May 2018 Chattanooga police arrested six men during a street-level a reverse sting conducted at several addresses in the East lake area, and the identities of the men were included in news coverage.  Patronizing prostitution is a class A misdemeanor in Tennessee, and if convicted, the men could  face up to 11 months and 29 days in jail and/or fines up to $2,500.

In June, 2017, twelve men were arrested for “patronizing prostitution” in East Ridge. East Ridge police said undercover officers put an ad online, setting up a meeting with suspected sex buyers at a local hotel for sexual acts in exchange for cash. The identities of the arrested sex buyers were publicly released, and included a local school teacher, emergency room doctor, certified nursing assistant, and a commercial truck driver.

In December, 2017, police conducted an undercover operation focused on online solicitation of prostitution which led officers to arrest both those suspected of offering and those purchasing prostitution  at a hotel in East Brainerd. Vice and narcotics officers arrested five men who were charged with “patronizing prostitution” and drug-related charges.  The names and ages of the arrested sex buyers were publicly disclosed.  The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security and East Ridge Police Department provided assistance in the investigation.

In December, 2020, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) confirmed that 14 men were arrested and booked into Hamilton County Jail after a two-day undercover operation to find people seeking illicit sex from minors.  As part of an undercover investigation aimed at addressing human trafficking in East Tennessee, special agents with the TBI Human Trafficking Unit and Task Force, the Chattanooga Police Department and Homeland Security Investigations placed several decoy advertisements on websites known to be linked to prostitution and commercial sex cases. The focus was to find people trying to participate in “commercial sex acts” with minors. The TBI confirmed that detectives and agents arrested 14 men and booked them into the Hamilton County Jail as a result of the investigation.

Some local arrests of sex buyers are the result of allegations of crimes against real victims, rather than the product of reverse stings using undercover police decoys.  For example, in 2012, a 23-year-old man was arrested in response to a report of an assault on Willow Street in Ooltewah.  Responding police met the woman who made the report.  She had cuts on her arms, face and head, and said she had been picked up by a white male for prostitution, and was taken to a location on E. 23rd Street. She said the man attacked her there, beating her in the head with a hammer.  The woman provided a description of the assailant, and was taken by ambulance to Erlanger Hospital. Several days later, the suspect was seen driving around Highland Park, he was stopped and gave police a statement.  He said he has been picking up prostituted women and trying to trick them into giving him free sex.  He corroborated the woman’s allegations, telling police he had picked her up and tried to rob her, but she began to fight back. He said he “did not like that she was fighting back and wanted her to be afraid and to do what he said.”  He said she “was putting up a good fight” so he pulled out a hammer and began to hit her in the head. He said at one point he and the woman were fighting over a knife.  The man also confessed “to attacking a number of unidentified prostitutes in the same manner as Ms. Pittman.”  He said he “enjoyed the power he felt” while beating the prostituting women. He told police he had been reading about serial killer Ted Bundy and “wanted to be like him.”  He was charged with especially aggravated robbery, aggravated assault and patronizing prostitution, and was held on an $80,000 bond. Two years later, the man was given a four-year prison sentence on an assault guilty plea.  Dismissed were charges of especially aggravated robbery, and patronizing prostitution.

In July, 2021, a man was arrested and charged with aggravated rape after he allegedly picked up a prostituted woman in downtown Chattanooga, then took her to his home and told her she was going to be his “sex slave.”  The man was charged with aggravated kidnapping, two counts of rape, aggravated assault, patronizing prostitution and possession of legend drugs without a prescription. The woman said he held her captive for an 18-hour period in the incident, and said that he drugged her and violently raped her repeatedly until she was finally able to get away. A mail carrier spotted her leaving the residence, and he took her to a nearby church where she called the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office. The woman was taken to a hospital and was found to have suffered numerous physical injuries.  Detectives corroborated details of the women’s version of the events after getting a search warrant and entering the suspect’s residence.

In addition to arrest and publicizing identities, individuals arrested for buying sex have been required to perform community service. Surveillance cameras have also been used as a deterrent.  Neighborhood activists have targeted sex buyers. In the early 2000s, a website called “Trick the Johns” was created by residents of a neighborhood in the Main Street area after they reported a spike in street prostitution in the area.  The website was active through at least 2008, but is no longer.

Key Partners

  • Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office
  • Chattanooga Police Department
  • Neighborhood groups
  • Chattanooga Police Department
  • Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • Homeland Security
  • East Ridge Police Department

Key Sources

Street-Level Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Arrest of Sex Buyers, Identity Disclosure:

Identity Disclosure, “Trick the Johns” Website:


  • “Prostitution Sting Issues 20 ‘Dear John’ Letters”, Chattanooga Times Free Press, September 13 1998.

Neighborhood Action:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

  • “Chattanooga Man Charged with Raping Prostitutes”, Chattanooga Times Free Press, July 20 2000.
  • “Trial Begins in 2002 Strangling Death of Prostitute”, Chattanooga Times Free Press, April 20 2006.
  • “Slaying, Rape Cases Heads to Jury”, Chattanooga Times Free Press, April 21 2006.
  • “Bigoms Acquitted of Rape, Murder but Remains in Jail”, Chattanooga Times Free Press, April 22 2006.
  • “Bigoms Found Guilty of Lesser Charge at Rape Trial”, Chattanoogan, May 2 2007.
  • “Prostitute Rape Case Moved to Criminal Court”, Chattanooga Times Free Press, October 30 2008.
State Tennessee
Type County
Population 366207
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