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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.
Street-Level and Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “Prostitution Sting in Dothan Lands Nine behind Bars,” CBS/WTVY-TV 4, July 13 2008.
- “Dothan Police Arrest Four for Soliciting Prostitution,” Dothan Eagle, August 11 2008.
- “Reverse Prostitution Sting Sends Four Men to Jail,” CBS/WTVY-TV 4, August 12 2008.
- “3 Arrested in Dothan Police in Reverse Prostitution Sting,” Birmingham News, May 5 2011.
- “Dothan Police Charge Trio in Reverse Prostitution Sting,” Dothan Eagle, May 6 2011.
- “9 Arrested in Prostitution Sting,” CBS/WTVY-TV 4, March 20 2013.
- “Dothan Police Arrest Nine Men on Prostitution Charges,” Dothan Eagle, March 20 2013.
- “Mayor of Webb among Dozen Arrested in Prostitution Sting Operation,” NBC/WSFA-TV 12, November 26 2014.
- “Webb Mayor Arrested in Prostitution Sting,” Dothan Eagle, November 26 2014.
- https://www.dothaneagle.com/houston-county-corrections-officer-resigns-after-arrest-for-prostitution (2016)
- https://www.wsfa.com/story/31404933/7-wiregrass-men-arrested-in-dothan-prostitution-sting/ (2016)
- https://www.dothaneagle.com/dothan-man-arrested-for-soliciting-prostitution-from-minor (2018)
Sex Buyer Fired or Resigned Due to Arrest:
- https://dothaneagle.com/houston-county-corrections-officer-resigns-after-arrest-for-prostitution (2016)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Woman Charged with Promoting Girl for Prostitution,” Dothan Eagle, September 12 2011.
- “Dothan Woman’s Rape Charge Dismissed,” Dothan Eagle, March 6 2013.
- “Bond Set for Man Accused of Human Trafficking,” CBS/WTVY-TV 4, August 28 2013.
- “Victim: Man Used Online Site to Prostitute Her, Others,” Dothan Eagle, May 12 2014.
- “Prosecution: Suspect Brought Teen Girl to Dothan for Prostitution Services,” Dothan Eagle, May 14 2014.
- “Houston County Judge Sentences Tennessee Man to Serve 50 Years for Human Trafficking, Giving Drugs to Minor,” Birmingham News, June 18 2014.
- “Santiago Alonso Sentenced to 50 Years in Prison,” CBS/WTVY-TV 4, June 18 2014.
- Sex trafficking survivor files lawsuit in the Houston County Circuit Court (2017)
Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:
- “Armed Robbery Suspect’s Bail Reduced,” Dothan Eagle, September 2 2011.