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Morristown is a city of about 31,000 residents that serves as the government seat of Hamblen County, Tennessee. Parts of Morristown extend into Jefferson County on the west and southern ends. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity have been well-documented in the city and unincorporated areas of Hamblen County. This activity and the problems and ancillary crimes it generates – including sex trafficking – result in complaints to law enforcement agencies from residents and businesses. For example, in May 2011, a federal grand jury in Greeneville released a 13-count indictment charging nine individuals with operating a network of brothels and prostitution delivery services in Tennessee and a least one other state. According to a press release issued from U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, the indictment alleged that the defendants created and operated a network of brothels and prostitution delivery services in Knoxville, Morristown, Johnson City, Nashville and Louisville, Ky. The network catered to Hispanic men by recruiting Hispanic women who were not legally present in the United States. The indictment alleged that the defendants transported the women in interstate commerce from one city to another on a weekly basis for more than four years. The women were defrauded, having been enticed to pay to be smuggled into the U.S. with the false promise of legal employment. Once in the country, the traffickers threatened to harm the women and their families if they did not participate in prostitution. The defendants were charged with conspiring to transport individuals in interstate commerce for prostitution purposes; conspiring to induce individuals to travel in interstate commerce for prostitution purposes; and conspiring to operate brothels with illegal aliens. In September, 2019 a Morristown woman and her husband faced charges after he allegedly forced her to commit an act of prostitution. The prostituted person was cited into court for prostitution. Her husband was taken into custody and charged with promoting prostitution. The woman reported she and her husband were chronically short of cash, and her husband had been forcing her to sell her body to strangers since 2016.
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. To identify and apprehend local sex buyers driving the prostitution and sex trafficking markets, the Morristown Police Department and other agencies (such as the Hamblen County Sheriff’s Office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI)) have conducted reverse stings. For example, in December 2016, eight men were arrested on prostitution charges during a two-day operation in Morristown. “Operation Someone Like Me” focused on identifying and rescuing potential victims of human trafficking while also targeting those attempting to buy sex. Undercover agents posted ads online; eight men, ages 27 to 56, responded and arrenged to meet to exchange sex for money, and were ultimately arrested. All wight men were charged with patronizing prostitution, and their identities were disclosed in news releases. The operation ended earlier than expected due to agents being reassigned to Sevier County to assist in the search and recovery of individuals missing as a result of wildfires.
In August 2017, a Morristown-based man facing charges for paying to sexually abuse two girls, ages 13 and 15, was resolved in Hamblen County Criminal Court in a way that limited his prison time and expedited his return to his native country (Honduras). The man faced between eight and 12 years in prison because of the age of the youngest girl he paid for sexual assault, and patronizing such a young person for “paid sex” can be prosecuted as a human-trafficking offense. By pleading guilty to attempted patronizing prostitution, along with aggravated statutory rape and agreeing to serve 100 percent of a three-year sentence, and avoided exposure to much more prison time.
- Morristown Police Department
- Hamblen County Sheriff’s Office
- Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
Web-Based Reverse Sting, Identity Disclosure:
- https://www.wkrn.com/8-arrested-in-east-tennessee-prostitution-bust/ (2016)
- https://www.wjhl.com/eight-arrested-morristown-sex-sting-operation/ (2016)
Background on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the Region:
- https://heraldcourier.com/update-prostitutes-transported-to-tri-cities-from-morristown-brothel (2012)
- https://www.al.com/alabama_man_nabbed_in_tennesse.html (2017)
- https://www.wbir.com/8-arrested-in-sevier-county-prostitution-sting (2017)
- https://www.wate.com/8-arrested-in-sevier-county-after-prostitution-sting (2017)
- https://www.wvlt.tv/content/8-arrested-in-Sevier-County-prostitution-sting (2017)
- https://www.wate.com/local-news/man-accused-of-running-sevier-county-prostitution-blackmail-scheme (2017)
- https://www.wgnsradio.com/tennessee-department-of-human-services-teaming-with-law-enforcement-agencies (2018)
- https://www.citizentribune.com//morristown-couple-faces-prostitution-charges/ (2019)