Houston County, AL

Tactics Used

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

Houston County is located in the southeastern corner of Alabama, with a population of approximately 105,000 residents. The county seat is Dothan, AL. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been well-document in the county. For example, in 2017, a survivor of the Backpage.com sex trafficking operation filed a lawsuit in the Houston County Circuit Court against several defendants she says profited from her abduction. The survivor was sex trafficked at a Dothan hotel. The defendants included in the complaint are the convicted Dothan perpetrator; classified advertising website Backpage.com, its ownership group; and Choice Hotels, parent company of the Quality Inn. The Dothan hotel’s franchise owner, Veda, LLC, is also among the defendants in the 85-page complaint. According to the complaint, the defendants, “conspired, enabled and/or otherwise worked together in a sex trafficking venture in which [the survivor] was victimized when she was just 17 years old.” Additionally, in November 2010, Choice Hotels partnered the organization End Child Prostitution, Pornography, and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT-USA) to develop a training module to educate management and staff in the prevention of sex trafficking. However, the complaint claims that Choice Hotels did not require employees to complete the training. The complaint states that the owner of the Dothan Quality Inn, should have recognized and acted on the red flags that should have alerted hotel employees to sex trafficker’s illegal activity, “[They] include payment by cash-only, older men or women with a younger woman/child or with a female who appears unrelated, the reservation of two rooms close to each other, a lack of luggage, refusal of cleaning services… and numerous men coming and going from the rooms or congregating at the door. A lot of these red flags were open and obvious in the sex trafficking case at the Quality Inn in Dothan, Alabama.” The survivor’s lawyer further stated, “The trafficker earned diamond elite status in Choice’s rewards program by renting so many rooms to traffic kids.”

Street-Level and Web-Based Reverse Stings:

In response to citizen complaints, local police conduct both street-level and web-based reverse stings about twice a year. Dothan Police have used both female officers from neighboring police departments, as well as civilian police department employees as decoys in some of these stings. The use of civilians in these operations been somewhat controversial, with concerns expressed regarding the safety of the volunteers, but the department has responded with a list of all the safety measures that are put in place during reverse stings and assure the public that the decoys are never in direct contact with the sex buyers. The decoys are instructed to allow the potential sex buyers to initiate the conversation, and to only ask them what they want, and what they are looking for. This helps to avoid the entrapment defense when the arrested man goes to court. The names of the sex buyers arrested in these operations are released to the media. For example, the DPD conducted a street-level reversal in November of 2014, that resulted in the arrest of twelve sex buyers (including the Mayor of nearby Webb, AL). The offenders’ names, photos, and other identifying information were released to the public. In September of 2018, a Dothan man was arrested for soliciting prostitution from a female minor; the man’s name and age were included in news releases.

Loss of Employment:

Public identity disclosure and loss of employment are consequence of buying sex that have occurred within the county. For example, in May, 2016, a man resigned from working as a corrections officer at the Houston County Jail after an arrest during a Dothan police prostitution sting. The Houston County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the employee resigned in the wake of his recent arrest and charge of committing third-degree promoting prostitution. The county had initially suspended the man and placed him on administrative leave until further review. The man later resigned. He was one of seven men arrested on the misdemeanor prostitution charges during the reverse sting.

Key Sources

Street-Level and Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Sex Buyer Fired or Resigned Due to Arrest:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

  • “Armed Robbery Suspect’s Bail Reduced,” Dothan Eagle, September 2 2011.
State Alabama
Type County
Population 105882
Location
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