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Memphis is the largest city in Tennessee, with approximately 628,000 residents. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been identified by local and national law enforcement agencies as persistent and serious problems in the city. High-profile sex trafficking arrests in Memphis have drawn drawn national attention. While some cases have involved the trafficking of adult women, the vast majority have exposed traffickers engaged in the sexual exploitation of children. To address these and related crimes, Tennessee state legislators created an anti-sexual slavery bill in June 2011, insisting minors arrested on suspicion of prostitution no longer be prosecuted but instead returned to their families. In October 2013, a Memphis man was sentenced to over 44 years in federal prison for using violence to force eight women and two teens into prostitution/sex trafficking. Ten victims, some as young as 15 years of age, testified at trial and said the trafficker forced them into prostitution by beating them with belts and crowbars and burning them with irons and boiling water. One victim testified the man forced her to engage in prostitution when she was pregnant with his child and induced her labor through a severe beating. This is just one of many sex trafficking cases known to have occurred in Memphis, and prostitution is considered a widespread problem. The city has also had documented cases of serials killers who specifically targeted women selling sex. Other problems include a case where a sex seller attempted to run over a truck stop employee who tried to get her to stop soliciting parked truckers.
Although the Memphis Police Department had conducted occasional street-level reverse stings to deter consumer-level demand and hold sex buyers accountable since the 1990s, the majority of the city’s anti-prostitution efforts continued to focus on the arrest of prostituted women into the 2000s. In a 2002 white paper produced by the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, MPD interviewees reported that this was often due to “the smaller number of female officers available for undercover operations, and the perception of greater physical risk to officers posing as prostitutes” (Maloney & Mobley, 2002). Tactics appeared to shift somewhat in April 2008, when Memphis Police and the Shelby County District Attorney General’s Office announced they would begin seizing and impounding the cars of those charged with prostitution-related offenses. That same year, the city began releasing some of the names of arrested sex buyers to the public. In 2014, web-based reverse stings were conducted, and in October, 2018, a reverse sting resulted in the arrest of 21 male sex buyers. In January, 2022 a web based operation resulted in the arrest of nine men seeking to buy access to sexually abuse minors.
Loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex that has occurred within the county. For example, in December, 2009, a Memphis Police Officer was charged with two felonies related to purchasing sex with prostitutes women. He had resigned from the police force, and faced one count of official misconduct and one count of official oppression. It was initially unknown to the public whether the man was accused of threatening or coercing the prostituted persons. A Memphis Police Department spokesperson said that the department hired the man in February 2007. He resigned in October, 2009, one month after authorities began investigating him as the result of a citizen complaint. In January, 2017, multiple agencies arrested and cited 42 people in Memphis during “Operation Someone Like Me.” Among the arrests was the Memphis Area Transit Authority CEO, who soon afterward resigned from his post as CEO. TBI said 475 men responded to ads posted on websites like Backpage and Craigslist. The men wanted to solicit sex from the undercover agents, who were posing as teenage girls. Some of those men agreed to meet the decoys at hotels or homes in the area, then offered money in exchange for sex.
- “Local Prostitutes’ Customers Seldom Face Public Shaming,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, October 20 2012.
- https://www.commercialappeal.com/former-mata-ceo-agrees-plea-deal (2017)
Street-Level Reverse Stings:
- “17 ‘Johns’ Arrested as Prostitution Sting Aims at Customers,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, July 28 1994.
- “Brooks Road Feels Prostitution Sting; 100 Men, 40 Women Caught This Week,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, July 29 1994.
- “Officers Continue Prostitution Sting along Brooks Road,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, July 30 1994.
- “Lure of Sex Draws New Line of ‘Johns’ to Police Sting,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, July 31 1994.
- “Prostitutes and ‘Johns’ Arrested,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, November 20 1994.
- “Police Arrest 23 Men in Sex-for-Pay Sting,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, March 20 2000.
- “47 Fall for Prostitution Sting; Odds Are against Police,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, May 1 2000.
- “Prostitution Bust Nets 12 Women, Four Men,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, August 19 2001.
- “Controlling Prostitution: A Multi-Modality Approach”, Philip J. Maloney & Grey Mobley, White Paper, Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, December 2002.
- “Police Arrest Suspected ‘Johns’ in Weekend Bust”, NBC/WMC-TV 5, September 29 2008.
- “MPD: Man Caught Picking up a ‘Prostitute,'” CBS/WREG-TV 3, March 25 2016.
- https://lagniappemobile.com/mpd-nets-21-in-reverse-prostitution-sting/ (2018)
Web-Based Reverse Stings; Identity Disclosure:
- “MPD Makes Arrests as Part of National Super Bowl Sex Trafficking Ring,” CBS/WREG-TV 3, February 7 2014.
- “MPD Joins National Sting against Sex Trafficking,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, February 8 2014.
- https://www.kiro7.com/news/trending/memphis-human-trafficking-sting-nets-5-arrests (2022)
- https://www.fox13memphis.com/9-men-arrested-after-authorities-conduct-human-trafficking-operation (2022)
- https://tbinewsroom.com/human-trafficking-operation-results-in-arrests-and-seizures/ (2022)
- “Prostitutes, Patrons May Find Faces on TV in Anti-Crime Effort,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, February 15 2002.
- “Cars of Prostitution Customers to be Seized, Says Gibbons,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, April 23, 2008.
- “Soliciting Prostitutes Can Cost Car,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, April 23, 2008.
- https://www.actionnews5.com/story/vehicles-seized-in-prostitution-crackdown (2008)
- “Law Enforcement Takes Prostitution Fight to New Level”, Memphis Daily News, April 28 2008.
- https://www.actionnews5.com/memphis-police-officer-faces-felony-charges-for-sex-with-prostitute/ (2009)
- https://www.actionnews5.com/tbi-former-mata-ceo-among-42-arrested-in-human-trafficking-investigation/ (2017)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- “Brothel Operator Pleads Guilty to Trafficking Juvenile Girl for Prostitution,” U.S. Federal News Service, January 10 2007.
- “3 More Guilty in Prostitution Bust; Total at 8, with 4 Cases Pending — Minors Forced into Sex Trade in Memphis Brothels,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, January 11 2007.
- “Woman Pleads Guilty to Forcing Juvenile Girls into Prostitution in Memphis,” U.S. Federal News Service, January 29 2007.
- “Man Pleads Guilty to Sex Trafficking”, Memphis Commercial Appeal, December 15 2007.
- “Three Memphis, Tenn., Men Sentenced for Role in Sex Trafficking Ring,” U.S. Federal News Service, February 29 2008.
- “Traffickers’ Prison Terms Set”, Memphis Commercial Appeal, March 1 2008.
- “Woman Pleads Guilty to Forcing Juvenile Girls into Prostitution in Memphis”, NBC/WMC-TV 5, January 29 2009.
- “FBI, Police Rescue Child Prostitutes Around U.S.”, FOX News, February 23 2009.
- “Sex Slavery Not Foreign to Memphis, Mid-South”, Memphis Daily News, November 25 2009.
- “Sex Ring Sentence Upheld in Appeal — Court: 50 Years Befitting Teen Prostitution Crime,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, January 26 2010.
- “Survey Finds New Law Needed to Fight Sex Trafficking”, Memphis Daily News, May 19 2011.
- “Sexual-Slavery Bill Aids Minors Around Tennessee”, Memphis Commercial Appeal, June 13 2011.
- “Accused Pimp-Kidnapper on Trial — Woman Claims Was Forced to Prostitution in Memphis under Threat of Death,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, July 3 2011.
- “Man Gets 15 Years in Federal Prison for Sex Trafficking a Minor”, Memphis Commercial Appeal, July 19 2011.
- “Memphis Campaign Puts a Dent in Sex Trade, Serves as National Model”, Memphis Commercial Appeal, July 24 2011.
- “California Man Charged with Forcing 15-Year-Old Girl into Prostitution in Memphis,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, August 2 2011.
- “Teen Tells FBI of Being Passed between Pimps — Man Faces Federal Charges of Taking Girl across U.S.,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, August 3 2011.
- “Pimp Admits Kidnapping — Death Threat Forced Girl into Prostitution,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, September 1 2011.
- “Pair Charged with Prostituting Teenage Girls”, Memphis Commercial Appeal, November 1 2011.
- “Memphis Man Sentenced for Interstate Transportation for Purpose of Prostitution in Connection with Sex Trafficking Scheme,” U.S. Federal News Service, January 31 2012.
- “No Bond Set for Cordova Man in Sex Trafficking Case”, Memphis Commercial Appeal, February 18 2012.
- “Memphis Man Found Guilty of Child Sex Trafficking and Firearms Charges,” U.S. Federal News Service, April 6 2012.
- “Conference Focuses on Sex Trafficking; ‘Epidemic’ Includes More than 4,000 Victims in Tenn., TBI Says”, Memphis Commercial Appeal, May 27 2012.
- “Memphis Man Sentenced on Child Sex Trafficking Charge”, NBC/WMC-TV 5, July 13 2012.
- “Shelby County Man Accused of Human Trafficking”, NBC/WMC-TV 5, August 2 2012.
- “Memphis Teen Accused of Pimping Kids Will Face Judge Friday”, NBC/WMC-TV 5, August 29 2012.
- “Memphis Man Pleads Guilty to Sex Trafficking,” U.S. Federal News Service, September 12 2012.
- “Police Officer Latest Defendant in Sex Trafficking”, Memphis Daily News, September 19 2012.
- “U.S. Attorney: Prostitution Problem a Priority”, NBC/WMC-TV 5, October 12 2012.
- “Memphis Pimp Found Guilty of Sex Trafficking”, NBC/WMC-TV 5, December 5 2012.
- “Man Accused of Pimping Out 14-Year-Old Girl”, NBC/WMC-TV 5, January 7 2013.
- “Document Details Teen’s Life in Forced Prostitution,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, August 1 2013.
- “Memphis Woman Gets Federal Prison Sentence”, ABC/WBBJ-TV 7, September 4 2013.
- “Memphis Sex Trafficker Gets Long Prison Sentence”, ABC/WATE-TV 6, November 29 2013.
- “Former Memphis Police Officer Gets 12 Months, One Day on Sex-Trafficking Charge”, Memphis Commercial Appeal, January 28 2014.
- “Man Indicted for Forcing 13-Year-Old Girl into Prostitution”, Memphis Commercial Appeal, January 30 2014.
- “Women Forced into Prostitution in Memphis”, CBS/WREG-TV 3, April 25 2014.
- “Department of Justice Charges 6 Defendants in Connection with Violent Sex Trafficking Scheme,” U.S. Federal News Service, October 4 2014.
- “Memphis Resident Pleads Guilty to Sex Trafficking of a Minor,” Press Release, U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Public Affairs, October 31 2014.
- “Man Forced Teens to Work for Him as Prostitutes, Indictment Says,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 10 2015.
- “Jury Convicts Memphis Man for Sex Trafficking of Minors,” Press Release, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana, February 25 2016.
- https://fox17.com/news/local/man-gets-30-years-on-sex-trafficking-charges-in-tennessee (2018)
- https://www.fox13memphis.com/news/local/sex-offender-convicted-raping-uofm-student- (2021)
- https://emeatribune.com/man-allegedly-forced-woman-into-prostitution-memphis-police-say/ (2022)
- https://news.yahoo.com/man-allegedly-forced-woman-prostitution (2022)
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- “Memphis Wars on Prostitution,” Toledo Blade, April 11 1969.
- “Individuals Indicted for Money Laundering, Harboring Illegal Aliens, Enticing Women to Engage in Prostitution,” U.S. Federal News Service, October 23 2006.
- “Prostitution Plagues Memphis Neighborhoods, Businesses”, Memphis Daily News, August 24 2007.
- “Four Motels Closed after Investigation — Officials: Prostitution Runs Rampant,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, August 8 2008.
- “Memphis Police Crack down on Prostitution; Communities Damaged by Victimless Crime,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, April 27 2009.
- https://www.actionnews5.com/police-man-tells-undercover-detective-she-has-potential-prostitution/ (2022)
- https://news.yahoo.com/4-women-charged-prostitution-near-012011603.html (2023)
- https://www.fox13memphis.com/news/4-women-charged-with-prostitution-near-middle-school (2023)
Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area
- “2 Convicted in Interstate Prostitution,” Milwaukee Journal, June 6 1974.
- “2 Get 8 Years Each in Prostitution Case,” Milwaukee Journal, July 22 1974.
- “2 Convicted in Prostitute’s Slaying,” Milwaukee Journal, November 4 1974.
- “Memphis Man Admits Killing Prostitute,” Afro American, November 22 1980.
- “Suspect in Many Slayings; Ohio Trucker Held in Highway Killing,” Schenectady Daily Gazette, August 31 1992.
- “Transgender Woman Attacked by Police Officer in Memphis,” Out & About, July 1 2008.
- “Abuse Victim Found Dead — Transgendered Woman Planned to Sue MPD,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, November 11 2008.
- “Prostitute Slain in Memphis Shadows,” Tuscaloosa News, December 7 2008.
- “4 Cops Accused of Rape, Kidnap — Officers Allegedly Attacked Prostitutes, Other Women,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, April 21 2009.
- “Memphis Police Officers Indicted After Undercover Investigation”, Memphis Commercial Appeal, April 21 2009.
- “Former Memphis Police Officer Pleads Guilty to Beating Transgender Prisoner”, Memphis Commercial Appeal, August 26 2010.
- “Prostitutes Found Murdered in South Memphis Cemetery”, NBC/WMC-TV 5, March 10 2011.
- “Jury Hears How Woman Escaped, and One Who Didn’t”, Memphis Commercial Appeal, April 25 2012.
- “Memphis Trucker Gets 23 Years in Prison for Death of Prostitute”, Memphis Commercial Appeal, July 2 2012.