Knoxville, 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

Knoxville is a city with approximately 187,000 residents, located in Knox County in eastern Tennessee. Prostitution is a persistent and visible problem in the area, and the city is known by federal and state investigators to be on domestic and international sex trafficking circuits. The city has also served as the operating base for at least one serial killer who specifically targeted prostituted women, and has reported and prosecuted several robberies, assaults, and murder cases involving sex buyers, sex traffickers/pimps, and prostituted people. Among the more serious issues associated with the city’s commercial sex market is child sex trafficking. For example, in November, 2016, sixteen people were arrested after an investigation by the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, Homeland Security and the FBI uncovered a prostitution ring at a local hotel. The group of conspirators originally traveled to New York from Texas and was on its way back when stopping in Knoxville, and posted advertisements on for prostitution. Investigators discovered that one of the women had two children. The two young children, a one-year-old and a three-year-old, were found returning to a hotel with two non-related men.  The children were placed in temporary custody of the Department of Children’s Services. The charges against the conspirators included human trafficking, possession of illicit drugs, driving on suspended license, violation of the child restraint law, violation of probation, prostitution, patronizing prostitution, impersonating a licensed professional, and performing massages without a state license.

To address such issues, the Knoxville Police Department has formulated an approach that targets sex buyers as well as prostituted people. Officers have been conducting street-level reverse stings as early as 1976, if not earlier. Police frequently release the names and other identifying information of arrested sex buyers to the media. For example, in 2009, the KPD released a report demonstrating the significant increase in prostitution-related activity and subsequent arrests in Knoxville, the city leading the state of Tennessee in the number of per capita prostitution related arrests and citations. compared to the some of the state’s much larger cities such as Nashville and Memphis. According to the report, the KPD had arrested over 250 male sex buyers from January 1st, 2004 to April 29th, 2009 and over 425 arrests from January 1st, 1999 to April 29th, 2009. In addition, the KPD released a document containing the names, images, and other identifying information of the total number of sex buyers arrested from January 1st, 1999 to April 29th, 2009.

As much prostitution solicitation has moved to the internet, the KPD conducts web stings as well. For example, in 2009, in a three-part series, the Knoxville Police Department released information about the movement of commercial sex online and the methods in which the department was combatting the demand for commercial sex online in the city. For example, in 2016 the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and detectives with Knoxville Police Department conducted a web-based operation, “Operation Someone Like Me,” focused on targeting individuals seeking to sexually exploit minors in exchange for money. During the three-day operation, undercover officials posted decoy ads on, in which more than 300 contacts were made to those ads by potential sex buyers. In one ad, undercover officials posed as a juvenile girl, which received more than two dozen contacts. The investigation resulted in 32 arrests; 27 men and five women. In addition, two men, both pastors at local churches, had responded to the decoy juvenile ad and were also arrested on sex trafficking charges. As a result of their arrests, both offenders were subsequently fired from employment by their respective churches. With the assistance of nonprofit agencies Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking, End Slavery Tennessee, and Second Life Chattanooga, the undercover operation conducted this week also identified potential victims of trafficking. The women were offered services provided by the nonprofits that include housing, counseling and addiction treatment. Three women took advantage of those services and left the operation and were immediately placed in safe houses. As the result of their arrest during the operation, 19 male sex buyers were provided the opportunity to attend a “john school.” The 8-hour course was offered in lieu of jail time by a local non-profit Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking (CCAHT).

Additional demand reduction tactics have been deployed in the city such as public education, neighborhood action, SOAP orders (limiting their access to city areas known for solicitation and prostitution), and employment loss. For example, in 2014, a sex trafficking survivor and colleagues wrote a play, “Princess Cut,” to inform the city of Knoxville about the harms of sex trafficking on the community. The play is based on the survivor’s own experiences.

Key Sources

Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Sex Buyer Arrests; Identity Disclosure:

Neighborhood Action:

John School:

Neighborhood Action, Public Education:

Sex Buyer Fired and/or Resigned Due to Arrest:

Documented Violence against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area:

Child Endangerment:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

State Tennessee
Type City
Population 187487
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