Nashville, TN

Tactics Used

Buyer Arrests
Reverse stings
Shaming
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Letters
Cameras
Web stings
License suspension

Nashville is a city of nearly 700,000 residents located in central Tennessee.  Prostitution and sex trafficking have been identified by numerous constituencies as a substantial problem in Nashville.  The history of prostitution in the city is described in a Smithsonian Magazine article from July 2013, focusing on the explosion of prostitution during Union Army stationing in the early 1860s. By 1864, the Army established the first system of legalized prostitution in the United States in order to control disease among soldiers. The system involved prostitute registration, health inspection, etc., similar to that still used in rural Nevada counties. No mention is made of attempting to address the role of the buyers.  The legalized prostitution system was abandoned soon after the end of the Civil War.

In current times, the city is known by federal and state investigators to be on domestic sex trafficking circuits.  For example, federal prosecutors investigated a human trafficking and prostitution ring that had ties to several states, and that the network operated in cities including Knoxville, Morristown, Johnson City, and Louisville, Kentucky. Contemporary local problems associated with commercial sex have been cases of HIV-positive women continuing to engage in prostitution, and women selling sex being specifically targeted for homicide.

Nashville has been a leader in efforts to combat demand for commercial sex.  The first reverse sting operation known to have been conducted in the United States occurred in Nashville in 1964. More recent examples include a large scale web-based reverse sting that resulted in 41 people arrested during a three-day operation designed to combat human trafficking in Nashville. The operation, dubbed “Operation Someone Like Me,” was led by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation with help from other law enforcement agencies. Over three days, undercover agents posted ads on Backpage.com. A total of 485 men responded to those ads, some of which undercover agents posed as a juvenile girl. Of the 41 arrested, 34 were men who authorities said were responding to ads in an effort to buy sex from a minor. Eighteen of those paid to have sex with an underage girl.  In June, 2021, Nashville Metro Police arrested 17 men in a web-based reverse sting focusing on those attempting to purchase access to minors for sexual abuse.  The men agreed to pay to rape a 16-year-old girl, who was really an undercover officer.  The operation took place over two days and involved the Metro Nashville Police Department, TBI, and Homeland Security. All of the men traveled to a hotel in the Donelson area of Nashville near Donelson Pike and Royal Parkway in response to an internet ad. The arrests came after the men entered the room and exchanged money. Each man is charged with trafficking for a commercial sex act.

Not all arrests of sex buyers are the result of proactive sting operations, but are instead the results of police responses to incidents and investigations of offenses against real victims.  For example, in April, 2021, Metro police arrested a man accused of grabbing a woman at an Antioch gas station and offering her money to have sex with him. According to an arrest warrant from Metro police, the man was charged with sexual battery. The victim told officers she was at a gas station nearby when the man  approached her. She stated he was trying to solicit her and offered her $100 to go home with him for the night.  The informed the man that she was not a prostitute and would not go anywhere with him. He followed the victim around the parking lot and eventually grabbed her.  The man was arrested and charged with sexual battery.

John School

The city was also among the first cities to pursue the “john school” model of educating men arrested in reverse stings, and through 2017 the Nashville program, operated by Behavioral Treatment Providers (BTP), remained one of the most robust john schools in the Nation.  In 2010, for example, over 400 men participated in the program, more than any program in the U.S. except perhaps Brooklyn, NY.  This flow could be attributed to the Nashville Police Department remaining committed to conducting frequent reverse stings.  It was also helped by the level of local public support and political good will the program fostered, due to its “restorative justice” component.  All of the revenue generated by the BTP john school program $300 fee was given to the Magdalene program for survivors of commercial sex.  In 2010 alone, the 400 participants in the Nashville john school program generated over $100,000 for the Magdalene program (the fee was only $250 in 2010). The BTP john school program was a group therapeutic model, and in 2018 the person who ran the sessions passed away.

In 2019, it appears that the john school program available locally is run by SA Nashville. The John’s School provides education for men who tried to buy prostitution services and were caught by police.  Contact Rob W. or email h-and-i@sanashville.org.   Location: Jackson Park Church of Christ, 4103 Gallatin Pike, Nashville, TN 37216

Shaming

The city began using shaming tactics in 2005.  The police department website posts the identities of arrested sex buyers, with this explanation/disclaimer:

“The following individuals were arrested and charged for either patronizing or soliciting for prostitution. This is not a comprehensive list of all individuals arrested by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department for patronizing or soliciting for prostitution. The names, identities, and citations appear here as they were provided to police officers in the field at the time of arrests.  All photos and information will be removed after thirty (30) days. These individuals are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.”

Loss of Employment

In March, 2018, a Nashville high school football coach was fired following his arrest for allegedly soliciting an underage student. According to an affidavit from Metro Nashville Police, the coach messaged a 17-year-old girl on Instagram asking her for sex. The man was arrested after he allegedly confessed to police about having sent the messages. The conversation reportedly started with private Instagram messages to her asking the girl when she would turn 18-years-old. He also asked if she wanted to do anything with him “like sex lol.” He later offered to reimburse her gas money to drive to his apartment. The man was arrested and booked into jail on $100,000 bond and was charged with solicitation of a minor. Because of her age and the fact that no physical contact was made, the charge was a misdemeanor. RePublic High School later released a statement saying the man had been fired immediately upon being informed that the faculty member sent inappropriate electronic messages to an underage student.

Key Partners

  • Nashville Police Department
  • Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • Behavioral Treatment Providers (John School, ending 2018)
  • SA Nashville (John School)

Key Sources

National Assessment Survey and Interviews

John School:

Street-Level Reverse Stings:

Web-Based Reverse Stings:

Other Arrests and Shaming of Sex Buyers:

Shaming:

Loss of Employment:

Neighborhood Action:

Community Service:

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 692857
Location
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