(NASHVILLE, TN), January 26, 2011 — State Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) and Representative Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville) have introduced legislation designed to attack the growing problem of child prostitution and human trafficking in Tennessee. The legislation would enhance penalties against those who patronize or promote the illegal act, as well gives law enforcement powers to impound a vehicle used in the commission of the offense.
“Trafficking children for sex is intolerable,” said Maggart. “This legislation would strengthen penalties against those promoting and patronizing these young victims.”
Currently, patronizing prostitution is a Class B misdemeanor in Tennessee, unless the crimes are committed within 100 feet of a church or 1.5 miles of a school, which is punishable as a Class A misdemeanor. The legislation would make patronizing prostitution from a person who is younger than 18 years of age or is mentally defective a Class E felony. Penalties for promoting prostitution would be increased from a Class E to a Class D felony when a minor is involved, under the bill. Additionally, the proposal specifies that if it is determined that a person charged with prostitution is under age 18, they would be immune from prosecution for prostitution and be subject to the protective custody of the Department of Children’s Services.
“These predators and criminal gangs target children because of their vulnerability, as well as the market demand for these young victims,” added Overbey. “That is why it is so important to strengthen penalties against those who exploit them. It is intolerable that in 2011, this crime is growing rather than decreasing. We must begin to take the steps needed to address it.”
The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Children and Youth heard testimony last fall from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Assistant Special Agent in Charge Margie Quinn who said law enforcement agencies have seen a “dramatic increase” in the crime recently. Quinn testified that Tennessee’s proximity to Atlanta, which is the worst city in the nation, puts the state in harm’s way.
In November, federal authorities broke up a human trafficking ring that provided underage prostitutes involving 29 Somali men and women with ties to outlaw gangs. According to the indictment, one of the intentions of those involved was to identify, recruit and obtain girls under age 14 for prostitution. The ring operated in Nashville, Minneapolis and Columbus, Ohio. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that one in four children who run away are approached for commercial sexual exploitation within 48 hours of leaving home.
January has been declared National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month to spotlight the problem. The legislation, Senate Bill 64 / House Bill 35, will be scheduled for a hearing upon the legislature’s return to Capitol Hill on February 7.