(NASHVILLE, TN), February 14, 2014 – Legislation sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), which strengthens penalties against those who patronize prostitution from a child or a person with intellectual disabilities, has advanced in the State Senate. The bill, which was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, also prohibits as a defense to patronizing prostitution asserting that the subject of the offense was a consenting minor or a law enforcement officer.
“Sex trafficking unfortunately exists in Tennessee, and there is a demand for commercial sex and sex with children still persists,” said Senator Overbey. “To help stop these crimes once and for all, we can no longer go after the supply side, we must attack it head on and cut off demand. The purpose of this bill is to reduce demand by increasing penalties and removing certain defenses that violators have attempted to use.”
Senate Bill 1815 increases the penalty for patronizing prostitution of a child or a person with an intellectual disability from a Class E to either a Class A or Class B felony, depending on the circumstances surrounding the offense. It also prohibits as a defense to patronizing prostitution asserting that the subject of the offense was a consenting minor or a law enforcement officer.
The General Assembly passed a series of bills addressing human trafficking since 2011, after the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) report showed 73 of the state’s 95 counties have reported the crime within their borders. Overbey was the prime sponsor of several key bills in that legislative package. As a result of those efforts, Tennessee emerged as a national leader in the fight against human trafficking, receiving an “A” ranking from Shared Hope International’s 2013 state report card. Tennessee scored 93.5%, the highest of any other state rated in the Protected Innocence Challenge.
“We have come a long way in this fight,” added Overbey. “However, we still have work to do and the legislation filed this year is laser-focused on making progress to eradicate this crime from our state.”
Overbey’s bill is one of 11 measures pushed by the anti-human trafficking coalition this year. The Coalition hopes the bills will toughen state law, help survivors, and aid law enforcement in their quest to eradicate human trafficking in Tennessee.
“The package of bills seek to enhance penalties against those who promote or patronize the illegal act, give more rights to human trafficking victims, update state laws to help ensure offenders cannot escape prosecution, and mandates a statewide TBI training program that will raise awareness and spotlight victims’ needs and issues. The bills have been moving through our committee session and several have already received final approval in the Senate. I am very optimistic about the progress we are making in our war on human trafficking.”