Memphis, 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

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.

Key Sources

John School:

Community Service:

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings; Identity Disclosure:

Identity Disclosure:

  • “Prostitutes, Patrons May Find Faces on TV in Anti-Crime Effort,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, February 15 2002.

Auto Seizure:

Employment Loss:

Neighborhood Action:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

Documented Violence Against Individuals Engaged in Prostitution in the Area

State Tennessee
Type City
Population 628127
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