Limestone County is part of the Huntsville, Alabama Metropolitan Statistical Area, and has a population of about 98,000. The county seat is Athens, a city of located along Interstate 65 in northern Alabama, north of Birmingham and near Huntsville. Another city in the county that has addressed demand is Decatur, AL. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented in Athens and other 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. For example, in 2011, the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office sent in an undercover officer to a local spa after the department had received concerns regarding illicit sexual activity at the business. According to the County Sheriff, the undercover officer was offered illicit sexual activity in addition to a massage, “He went in and they advised him that for $60 he could get a massage, for a happy ending, it would be $80, for oral sex $140, and for regular sex $240.” Two women were arrested on charges of second-degree promoting prostitution and soliciting prostitution. The property owner claimed that due to the arrests, the spa was out of business. However, in May of 2014, the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office received reports of suspicious activity and possible prostitution at the spa that allegedly went out of business in 2011 due to similar offenses. Over the course of several weeks, officers were able to conduct an undercover operation that led to the arrest of three spa employees. According to reports, spa employees offered an undercover officer sex in addition to a massage, wherein officers were able to execute a search warrant and arrest three female employees on charges of second-degree promotion of prostitution and soliciting prostitution. The women were released from Limestone County Jail after posting a $1,000 bail.
Consumer level demand provides the revenue stream for all prostitution and sex trafficking and has therefore been targeted by local law enforcement agencies as a strategy for prevention and response. The Athens Police Department has conducted several anti-prostitution operations, including reverse stings. In 2006, a street-level sting used two decoys and resulted in the arrest of 13 male sex buyers, and another reversal that year resulted in nine arrested sex buyers. Three areas of Athens that police targeted during the investigation included U.S. 31, Washington Street and Hine Street. The vehicles of arrested offenders were seized and a payment of $160 was required to recover them. Once convicted, the men were also required to pay a $500 fine plus court fees. The names, ages, locations, and charges of the arrested sex buyers were released to news outlets.
Sex Trafficking in the Area:
In April of 2018, a prostitution ring that had been operating for several months was uncovered in Limestone County. A woman was charged with second-degree human trafficking amongst other charges. The woman had initially been arrested for possessing methamphetamine, and a search warrant for her cell phone exposed the prostitution ring. According to investigators, the ring involved at least fourteen prostituted persons, both men and women. The woman recruited men and women and then set up “parties” at motels in the Athens area. At those sex parties, the prostituted persons that had been recruited were required to perform sex acts with sex buyers. The woman paid the men and women with illegal drugs like meth, and pocketed the cash. She also arranged private liaisons in motel rooms between her the prostituted people and sex buyers. Along with human trafficking, she was charged with possession of a controlled substance (methamphetamine) and illegal possession of marijuana.
In March of 2019, the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office arrested and charged an Athens man with sex trafficking and drug offenses. According to reports, the offender attempted to recruit a minor into a sex trafficking operation. The investigation began after officers took a report from a juvenile who had allegedly been sexually assaulted and lured into a sex trafficking operation. After the Child Advocacy Center interviewed the juvenile, investigators began a sex trafficking investigation and arrest warrants were issued. The offender was charged with human trafficking first-degree and distribution of a controlled substance and booked in the Limestone County Jail with a bond set at $10,000 for the distribution charge. A bond was not immediately set for the human trafficking charge.
Other Buyer Arrests:
In April of 2020, an Athens man was charged with prostitution by the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office after a woman reported that he had tried to get her to pay him for sex in exchange for getting her vehicle out of impound. The woman’s car had been towed and impounded by a local wrecker service after a traffic stop. She knew the name of one man who worked for the wrecker company and found a different man with the same name on Facebook, whom she contacted thinking it was the wrecker employee. When she asked what it would take to get her car out of impound, the man requested sex and money in exchange for the release of the vehicle. The man was arrested and then released on a $1,000 bond. His name, photo, location, age, and charge were released to the press.
- “11 Charged in Prostitution Sting”, Athens News Courier, May 27 2006.
- “Two Charged with Prostitution”, Athens News Courier, June 9 2006.
- “Female Officers Walking Streets to Nail Johns”, Athens News Courier, July 1 2006.
Other Buyer Arrests:
- www.waaytv.com/Limestone-Co-Sheriff-Athens-man-asks-woman-for-sex-for-vehicle-gets-charged-with-prostitution (2020)
- https://www.enewscourier.com/woman-says-athens-man-offered-sex-for-release-of-her-impounded-vehicle (2020)
Background on Local Prostitution and Sex Trafficking:
- https://www.al.com/3_women_arrested_in_prostituti.html (2014)
- https://www.al.com/news/2018/04/human_trafficking_suspect_jail.html (2018)
- https://www.waaytv.com/Prostitution-ring-busted-in-Limestone-County (2018)
- https://www.waff.com/more-details-released-on-athens-womans-alleged-sex-for-drugs-operation/ (2018)
- https://www.waaytv.com/Limestone-Co-Sheriffs-Office-says-man-tried-to-recruit-minor-for-prostitution (2019)
- https://www.rocketcitynow.com/news/athens-man-arrested-for-human-trafficking/ (2019)
- https://www.enewscourier.com/athens-man-charged-with-human-trafficking (2019)
- https://whnt.com/man-charged-with-human-trafficking-recruited-juvenile-into-prostitution (2019)
- https://www.enewscourier.com/news/local_news/updated-2-arrested-for-promoting-prostitution-in-athens (2019)
- https://www.waff.com/2019/12/18/raid-underway-athens-massage-parlor (2019)