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Jefferson County is the most populous county in the state of Alabama, with a population of roughly 668,000 residents. It is located in central Alabama and the county seat is Birmingham. Prostitution activity has been well-documented throughout Jefferson County for many years. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates result 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, child endangerment, and violence committed against people involved in these transactions. For example, in February 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 who had been sex trafficked. 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.
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 stings. Within Birmingham, prostitution sweeps have arrested up to 130 men in reverse stings using undercover female police officers. The first known reverse sting in the city was conducted in 1987 and resulted in the arrest of over 140 male sex buyers. In 2007, a campaign to publicly disclose the identities of arrested sex buyers was conducted in which pictures of convicted prostituted persons and sex buyers were broadcast on a local access cable channel. However, due to a law passed in 2016, media outlets are prohibited from publishing the mugshots of anyone charged with prostitution (does not apply to sex buyers) without special permission from a judge. In April 2010, the Birmingham Police Department announced that eight men were charged with soliciting prostitution after a BPD Vice Unit reverse sting targeting sex buyers in Birmingham. In March 2012, the BPD conducted an undercover operation in the Woodlawn area of north Birmingham that resulted in the arrest of 35 individuals on charges of soliciting prostitution. In 2014, the BPD arrested seven suspects on prostitution-related charges in an operation at a local massage parlor.
There have also been many multi-agency operations in the other communities and incorporated areas of Jefferson County. For example, in May 2017, the Alabama Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force conducted the first Operation Standing Guard in Jefferson, Shelby, and St. Clair counties. The three-day operation resulted in six warrants being served, five individuals being arrested, and four child victims being identified. Operation Standing Guard is a series of operations that target individuals who communicate online with minors and travel to meet them for the purpose of sexual abuse, individuals who are willing to exploit minors by purchasing access to sexually abuse them, and individuals who produce, possess, and/or distribute child pornography (i.e., child sexual abuse materials).
In November 2017, St. Clair County law enforcement agencies participated Operation Standing Guard II, a five-day operation once again targeting child predators. ALEA’s Alabama Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force announced charges against two men arrested during Operation Standing Guard II, which occurred in the Birmingham area. During the initiative, ICAC seized 100 electronic devices, carried out eight search warrants, identified 22 children that were being sexually exploited through social media, and initiated two sexual assault cases. In November 2017, the Georgia ICAC Task Force conducted a joint operation with the Alabama ICAC Task Force called Operation Hidden Guardian. The Georgia ICAC Task Force arrested 21 suspects, with seven cases involving Alabama citizens who had traveled from Alabama to Columbus, GA with the expectation of sexually abusing a child.
In July 2019, over 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.
- Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office
- The Homewood Police Department’s Vice and Narcotics Unit
- The Homewood Police Department
- Vestavia Hills Police Department
- ALEA’s SVU and Tactical Unit
- ALEA’s Alabama Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force
- Georgia ICAC Task Force
- Alabama’s Attorney General’s Office
- Homeland Security Investigations
- Walker County Sheriff’s Office
- Birmingham Police Department
- Bessemer Police Department
- Homewood Police Department
- Moody Police Department
- Pelham Police Department
- Gardendale Police Department
- Tallapoosa County Sheriff’s Office
- University of Alabama Police Department’s Joint Electronic Crimes Task Force
Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “Police Arrest 138 in Sting Operation”, Gadsden Times, August 28 1987.
- “News Briefs; Metro; 20 Men Are Arrested on Charges of Soliciting”, Birmingham News, March 19 1994.
- “Attorney Says Baptist Preacher Entered His Plea to Avoid Trial”, Tuscaloosa News, August 6 1994.
- “Police Decoys Hit Street to Combat Prostitution”, Birmingham News, March 22 1998.
- “Crime; Birmingham; Police Target Prostitution”, Birmingham News, August 20 2009.
- “Thirteen Men Charged with Solicitation for Prostitution in Birmingham”, Birmingham News, October 7 2010.
- “Vice Operation Arrest”, Birmingham News, October 14 2010.
- “Undercover Prostitution Sting Leads to Arrest of 8 Men in Birmingham”, Birmingham News, November 2 2010.
- http://www.wbrc.com/story/birmingham-police-arrest-several-suspects-in-prostitution-sting (2010)
- “Birmingham Hookers Go for $5 and Up, Police Say”, Birmingham News, November 8 2012.
- http://www.walb.com/story/police-arrest-35-in-prostitution-sting-in-woodlawn (2012)
- http://abc3340.com/archive/2nd-prostitution-sting-in-birmingham-area (2012)
- http://www.wtvm.com/story/7-arrested-in-roebuck-area-prostitution-bust (2014)
- https://www.al.com/news/birmingham/child_predator_operations_land (2017)
- https://www.annistonstar.com/the_st_clair_times/moody-police-assist-in-multi-agency-sting-targeting-child-predators (2017)
- https://www.wbrc.com/arrested-prostitution-sting-homewood (2019)
- https://www.cbs42.com/news/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 (2019)
- https://www.wvtm13.com/article/multiple-people-arrested-in-huma-trafficking-sting (2019)
- “‘Shame Campaign’ Pitched to Expose Prostitute Patrons”, Birmingham News, August 14 2007.
- “Birmingham Prostitutes, Clients Will Be Shamed on TV in Council’s Plan”, Birmingham News, October 2 2007.
- “Car Tags Seen as Prostitute Solution”, Birmingham News, July 26 1995.
Background on Local Sex Trafficking and Prostitution:
- “Sold into Prostitution, Woman Leaps to Safety”, Gadsden Times, June 11 1980.
- “Crime Ring Traced out of Birmingham”, Tuscaloosa News, November 9 1980.
- “Man Draws 17 1/2 Years in Prison”, Gadsden Times, December 16 1983.
- “Louisiana Man Charged with Transporting Girls from Atlanta to Birmingham for Prostitution”, Birmingham News, March 15 2010.
- “Birmingham Massage Parlor Owner, Employee Indicted on Human Trafficking, Prostitution Charges”, Birmingham News, September 29 2010.
- “Birmingham Man Charged with Attempting to Lure 14-Year-Old into Prostitution”, Birmingham News, October 27 2010.
- “Two People Arrested for Trafficking Children for Sex in Birmingham”, CBS/WIAT-TV 42, July 29 2013.