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Homewood is a city of about 25,500 residents in southeastern Jefferson County, AL. It is a suburb of Birmingham, AL, located south of the city center. Prostitution activity has been well-documented in the city and surrounding communities, and in unincorporated areas of the county. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates results in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. Homewood police officials have asserted that prostitution is not a victimless crime, that prostituted persons are often victims of sex trafficking and often addicted to drugs and threatened with violence, and that sex trade also brings in more crime, increasing vehicle thefts, burglaries, and narcotics offenses. Among the more serious crimes associated with the local commercial sex market are sex trafficking, child endangerment, and violence committed against people involved in these transactions. For example, in February of 2019, a joint investigation into prostitution and human trafficking in Homewood, AL, led to the arrests of seven people and the rescue of a juvenile girl. The Homewood Police Department’s Vice and Narcotics Unit had carried out an online operation targeting prostitution in the city, in collaboration with the Vestavia Hills Police Department and the FBI. In addition to prostitution arrests, two male offenders were charged with promoting prostitution. The identities, photos, ages, locations, and charges of the arrested offenders were included in reports from local news sources. The local sex trade has also involved cases of child sex trafficking and the production of child sexual abuse materials (CSAM, commonly referred to in state criminal codes as “child pornography”). For example, in August, 2022, a man was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison after he had entered a guilty plea to one count of sex trafficking a minor and one count of production of child pornography. He had been arrested in July 2021 during a police operation at a motel on Summit Parkway in Homewood. The FBI Birmingham’s Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force had received a priority lead regarding a 14-year-old female reported missing out of Madison, Wisconsin. FBI agents in Birmingham and the Homewood Police Special Investigations Unit launched an immediate investigation to find and recover the child. They located her through an advertisement on a website known for commercial sex advertisements. A task force officer responded to the number posted in the advertisement, the minor victim replied, and provided the address to meet. Members of the task force responded to a local hotel and located the juvenile victim in the hotel room with the offender. The victim was referred to a local victim advocacy agency for assistance. Further investigation revealed CSAM involving the offender and the juvenile victim located on his cell phone. The offender also faced state charges of kidnapping, human traffic and illegal possession of a firearm in connection with the same incident.
Consumer-level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies in their strategy for prevention and response. To combat the array of problems stemming from commercial sex, local law enforcement agencies have conducted reverse sting. For example, in July of 2019, more than a dozen individuals were arrested and charged in a prostitution and sex trafficking operation led by the Homewood Police Department’s Vice and Narcotics Unit. According to authorities five of the arrested individuals were male sex buyers who were also charged with promoting prostitution. The operation was part of the FBI’s months long effort, Operation Independence Day, to combat demand for commercial sex and sex trafficking.
In October, 2022, Homewood police announced that they would “keep the pressure on those who solicit prostitutes and use local motels and hotels as their meeting spots. This new campaign includes public exposure for those who are arrested. The message from police to sex buyers is that they are the targets of police attention, and that their mugshot will be publicly distributed, and arrests will be announced weekly. They said they would conduct frequent reverse stings , and once the warrants are signed they would do a weekly press release showing their mugshots, their names, where they live, and their age. Police encouraged the public to find information about arrests and submit tips using the Homewood Police Department app.
The Safe and Healthy Homewood Coalition in collaboration with the Homewood City Schools district, has provided a series of programs designed to equip parents throughout the school year with information concerning youth health. The coalition provides resources and informative sessions educating parents about sex trafficking and exploitation and steps they can take to increase the safety of their children. For example, in January of 2021, the Child Trafficking Solutions Project (CTSP) and the Safe and Healthy Homewood Coalition hosted an online forum for parents called, Human Trafficking: Protecting Your Children From On-Line Predators, Exploitation, and ‘Sugaring.’ In addition, the coalition provided resources for parents, which are accessible at any time.
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- https://www.cbs42.com/homewood-police-arrest-14-in-human-trafficking-prostitution-case/ (2019)
- https://www.al.com/14-arrested-on-prostitution-charges-in-homewood-in-fbi-human-trafficking-operation.html (2019)
- https://www.wvtm13.com/multiple-people-arrested-in-huma-trafficking-sting (2019)
- https://abc3340.com/homewood-pd-steps-up-prostitution-sting-operations-targeting-johns-local-hotels (2022)
- Safe and Healthy Homewood Coalition and the Homewood City Schools district’s online forum regarding human trafficking (2021)
Local Sex Trafficking, Prostitution, Related CSAM and Other Crimes:
- https://www.al.com/7-arrested-juvenile-rescued-during-prostitution-sting-in-homewood.html (2019)
- https://www.wbrc.com/arrested-prostitution-sting-homewood/ (2019)
- https://www.brproud.com/14-year-old-rescued-during-human-trafficking-operation/ (2021)
- https://abc3340.com/14-year-old-wisconsin-girl-rescued-from-human-trafficking-operation-in-homewood (2021)
- https://www.al.com/14-year-old-missing-wisconsin-girl-found-at-homewood-motel-birmingham-man-charged-with-human-trafficking (2021)
- https://abc3340.com/homewood-prostitution-sting-arrests (2022)