2011 – 2017 Laws passed by the General Assembly to attack human trafficking
Human Trafficking – Comprehensive legislation designed to attack the growing problem of child prostitution and human trafficking in Tennessee was approved in 2011. The legislation enhances penalties against those who patronize or promote the illegal act.
According to a 2011 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) study, human sex trafficking is a widespread problem in Tennessee, with 78 of the 95 counties reporting the crime has occurred within their boundaries during the last 24 months. The study showed that sixty-two counties reported the presence of minor human sex trafficking.
A joint operation between the FBI and the Hamblen County Sheriff’s Department resulted in the arrest of nine individuals for human trafficking. According to law enforcement, the women were lured from Mexico to East Tennessee with the promise of employment, but were forced into prostitution. In November, federal authorities broke up a human trafficking ring that provided underage prostitutes involving 29 Somali men and women with ties to 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. Both of these cases highlight the growing problem of human trafficking in Tennessee.
Before passage of the bill, patronizing prostitution was 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 also makes patronizing prostitution from a person who is younger than 18 years of age or has an intellectual disability a Class E felony. Penalties for promoting prostitution are increased from a Class E to a Class D felony when a minor is involved. Additionally, the law specifies that if it is determined that a person charged with prostitution is under age 18, they are immune from prosecution for prostitution and shall be released to a parent or guardian after receiving information regarding resources available to put them on the right track.
In following, two other bills were passed to provide a comprehensive statewide approach to deal with the problem. The first bill sets up an Anti-human Trafficking Fund within the Department of Finance and Administration to provide grants to not-for-profit or tax exempt groups that provide services to the victims. The other bill requires the posting of a Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline in places where victims are more likely to be found so they can access help earlier.
Senate Bill 64 / Overbey, Yager, Ford, Burks / PC 377 / DOE: July 1, 2011/ Senate Bill 604 /Marrero, Barnes, Beavers, Bell, Berke, Burks, Campfield, Crowe, Faulk, Finney L, Ford, Gresham, Harper, Haynes, Herron, Johnson, Kelsey, Ketron, McNally, Norris, Overbey, Roberts, Southerland, Stewart, Summerville, Tate, Tracy, Watson, Woodson, Yager, Ramsey / PC 354 / DOE: Upon enactment on June 1, 2011 / Senate Bill 605 / Marrero, Kelsey, Yager, Burks, Berke, Ford, Harper, Overbey / PC 435 / DOE: October 1, 2011
Human Trafficking – Several bills regarding sex trafficking were approved by the General Assembly in 2012. Human traffickers target vulnerable victims which most often include immigrants, children and runaways. Bills passed include:
Human Trafficking / Victim’s Defense — Senate Bill 2590 states that it is a defense to prosecution when a person charged with prostitution is charged for conduct that occurred because a person was a victim as defined under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Human Trafficking / Sexual Servitude — Similarly, Senate Bill 2371 was approved which replaces the existing Class B felony offense of “trafficking for sexual servitude” with “trafficking a person for a commercial sex act” and adds the attempt to subject, benefit from, or attempt to benefit from another person’s provision of a commercial sex act. The bill clarifies that the offense of trafficking a person for a commercial sex act would be a Class A felony if the victim is a child under 15 years of age and adds that the offense is a Class A felony if the offense occurs on the grounds or facilities or within 1,000 feet of a public or private school, secondary school, preschool, child care agency, public library, recreational center or public park.
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.
This law also adds the offense of advertising commercial sexual abuse of a minor, which is committed when a person knowingly sells or offers to sell an advertisement that would appear to a reasonable person to be for the purpose of engaging in what would be a commercial sex act with a minor. The bill prescribes a violation would be a Class C felony upon conviction. In addition to any authorized period of incarceration, advertising commercial sexual abuse of a minor would be punishable by a minimum fine of $10,000 under the statute. In a prosecution for advertising commercial sexual abuse of a minor, the legislation says it is not a defense that the defendant did not know the age of the minor depicted in the advertisement.
Human Trafficking / Civil Recourse — Legislation was approved during the 107th General Assembly gives victims of human trafficking a civil cause of action to sue the person who has victimized them. The purpose of this law is to help restore trafficking victims financially at the expense of the trafficker.
Human trafficking legislation was passed which calls for a plan to be developed in the Department of Human Services for the delivery of state services to victims of human trafficking passed. The bill seeks to give victims assistance in identifying any services the state offers which will help them recover from this crime.
Human Trafficking — A package of legislation was approved in 2013 that builds on the legislature’s ongoing efforts to attack the problem of child prostitution and human trafficking in Tennessee.
The package includes:
- Senate Bill 446, which adds aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, trafficking for commercial sex acts, patronizing prostitution and promoting prostitution, to the list of offenses for which a minor or a law enforcement officer posing as a minor might be solicited. According to the Tennessee Department of Corrections, there has been an average of almost 15 admissions each year over the past 10 years for trafficking for commercial sex acts, patronizing prostitution, promoting prostitution, and aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor. (by Overbey, Kelsey, Finney L, Ford / Enrolled and ready for signatures / DOE: July 1, 2013)
- Senate Bill 1027, which allows children who are victims of trafficking for commercial sex acts and patronizing prostitution the opportunity to testify outside of the courtroom by using a two-way closed circuit television. Currently, the same courtesy is afforded to victims of aggravated sexual battery, rape, incest, aggravated child abuse, kidnapping, aggravated kidnapping, especially aggravated kidnapping and criminal intent to commit any of the offenses above. (by Ketron, Ford, Crowe, Beavers, Burks, Overbey / Public Chapter 251 / DOE: July 1, 2013)
- Senate Bill 1028, which extends the statute of limitations for commercial sex acts and soliciting the sexual exploitation of a minor to ten years after the victim turns 18 and patronizing and promoting prostitution of minor to 15 years after the victim has turned 18. In many instances, victims are unaware of the fact they are victims at the time of their 18th birthday. This legislation would allow them more time and maturity to make that realization. (by Kelsey, Ketron, Crowe, Bowling, Burks, Campfield, Ford, Haile, Harper, Massey, Overbey, Stevens, Yager / Enrolled and ready for signatures / DOE: July 1, 2013)
- Senate Bill 1029, which adds trafficking for commercial sex acts to the list of gang-related offenses. (by Kelsey, Beavers, Burks, Ford, Haile, Overbey, Stevens, Yager / Enrolled and ready for signatures / DOE: July 1, 2013)
- Senate Bill 1030, which prohibits defendants from using consent as a defense in the cases of solicitation, sexual exploitation of a minor, aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor. (by Kelsey, Ford, Crowe, Bowling, Burks, Campfield, Massey, Stevens, Overbey / Enrolled and ready for signatures / DOE: July 1, 2013)
- Senate Bill 1031, which would prohibit the lack of knowledge of a person’s age as a defense against the charges of patronizing prostitution or soliciting the sexual exploitation of a minor. The legislation does provide an exception to this prohibition in instances where the defendant and victim are within four years of age of each other. (by Kelsey, Yager, Beavers, Haile, Overbey, Stevens / Enrolled and ready for signatures / DOE: July 1, 2013)
- Senate Bill 1032, which increases the charge of promoting the prostitution of a minor from a Class E felony to a Class A or B felony. (by Kelsey, Ford, Crowe, Beavers, Burks / Enrolled and ready for signatures / DOE: July 1, 2013)
- Senate Bill 1033, which creates a new Class D felony offense for promoting travel for prostitution. The bill also deletes the definition of “sexual servitude” and changes it to “commercial sex act” and ensures that the purchase is an offense punishable under Tennessee law. (by Kelsey, Ford, Crowe, Overbey, Yager / Amendment withdrawn / DOE: July 1, 2013)
- Senate Bill 1034, which would create grounds for the termination of parental rights when a parent or guardian is convicted of trafficking for commercial sex acts. (by Kelsey, Bowling, Crowe, Gresham, Yager / Enrolled and ready for signatures / DOE: July 1, 2013)
- Senate Bill 1035, which provides defendants or victims of sex trafficking restitution of special damages that include medical- and counseling-related expenses the victim incurred as a result of sex trafficking and other offenses. (by Kelsey, Ford, Crowe, Beavers / Public Chapter 242 / DOE: July 1, 2013
- Senate Bill 1036, which would create a Human Trafficking Task Force. The group would be composed of 19 members and would be charged with the duty of creating a plan for the prevention of human trafficking within the state. The chairman of the committee would be appointed by the governor and the remaining members by various departments. (by Kelsey, Crowe, Harper, Yager, Overbey / Senate Message Calendar / DOE: July 1, 2013)
- Senate Bill 1038, which adds trafficking for commercial sex acts, promoting prostitution, patronizing prostitution, solicitation of a minor, soliciting the sexual exploitation of a minor and exploitation of a minor by electronic means to the list of criminal acts that can constitute a charge of unlawful debts. (by Kelsey, Ford, Crowe, Burks, Overbey, Stevens, Yager / Signed by the Governor / DOE: July 1, 2013)
- Senate Bill 1390, which broadens the definition of custodian to include anyone who physically possesses or controls a child. This proposal would enable Child Protective Services to remove a child from the care of a trafficker in cases in which the trafficker is not a parent, guardian or legal custodian, which, under current law, are the only people considered custodians. (by Kelsey, Summerville, Ford, Crowe / Public Chapter 255 / Upon becoming law on April 19, 2013)
Human Trafficking — Efforts continued in the General Assembly in 2014 to address the problem of human trafficking and prostitution. A follow-up to the 2011 report was released in 2014 that showed sex trafficking of minors occurs in rural and urban areas of Tennessee and has an effect in both wealthy and poor households. It was also discovered that minors who come from impoverished households are especially vulnerable to victimization.
Following is a list of laws passed during the 2014 legislative session:
- Missing Children / TBI — A statute was passed requiring the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to add information on its missing children website when a child is found. The bill calls on the TBI to update the missing children registry to include pertinent information about rescued children in the same manner as the report of a missing child.
- Promoting Prostitution / Child Abuse — Legislation was approved to add the offense of promoting prostitution to the list of offenses that constitute severe child abuse
- Consent Defense — A law was passed which prohibits asserting that the subject of the offense was a consenting minor or a law enforcement officer as a defense to promoting prostitution.
- Penalties / Patronizing Child Prostitution — Lawmakers approved a bill which attacks the “demand side” of human trafficking. The legislation toughens penalties against those who patronize prostitution from a child or a person with intellectual disabilities and removes certain defenses that violators have attempted to use. The bill increases the penalty 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 the assertion that the subject of the offense was a consenting minor or a law enforcement officer.
- Out of State Sex Offenders – A law was passed that treats out-of-state sexual offenders the same way we treat in-state sexual offenders for the purpose of being placed on Tennessee’s Sex Offender Registry.
- Child Prostitution / Sex Offender Registry – The General Assembly voted to ensure that those who are guilty of patronizing prostitution of a minor are placed on the state’s Sex Offender Registry.
Senate Bill 2564 by Kelsey / Status: Public Chapter 722 / Effective Date: July 1, 2014
The General Assembly approved a wide range of legislation attacking crime during the 2015 legislative session. Money to fight crime was also included in the 2015-2016 fiscal year budget. This includes funds for three new forensic scientists at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to process forensic evidence in rape kits at no charge to local law enforcement, money for TBI training to crack down on human trafficking and an appropriation for TBI meth clean-up. The budget also contained $47 million to fund a new contract for the Trousdale County Correctional Facility to house over 2,500 state inmates, a new offender management system, the final phase of the required Radio System upgrade, a salary differential for correctional staff and a grant for the Amachi Mentoring Program that provides mentors for at-risk youth.
Training — The 2015 legislation includes a bill to give law enforcement and other officials more training to identify, investigate and prosecute cases of human trafficking. The law calls on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to implement such training courses, which will also include information to help first responders and caseworkers find services to assist victims of the crime. It provides for four additional special TBI agents to implement the new program.
(Senate Bill 16 / Sponsors: Ketron, Kelsey, McNally, Bowling, Harris, Roberts, Gresham, Overbey, Crowe, Kyle, Norris, Tate, Tracy, Watson, Yager, Yarbro / Status: Public Chapter 503 / Effective date: July 1, 2015)
Commercial Human Trafficking — The General Assembly approved another bill that adds Commercial Human Trafficking to the list of offenses for which a District Attorney may apply for a law enforcement wiretap. The organized crime and conspiratorial nature of this type of offense, commercial human sex trafficking, justifies this enhanced investigatory option for law enforcement.
(Senate Bill 43 / Sponsors: Kelsey, Overbey, Bowling, Yager, Bailey, Beavers, Bell, Briggs, Crowe, Dickerson, Gardenhire, Green, Gresham, Haile, Harper, Harris, Hensley, Jackson, Johnson, Ketron, Kyle, Massey, McNally, Niceley, Norris, Roberts, Southerland, Stevens, Tate, Tracy, Watson, Yarbro, Ramsey / Status: Public Chapter 435 / Effective date: July 1, 2015)
Juvenile Victims — State lawmakers voted in 2015 to enable a Juvenile Court Judge of a jurisdiction that has shelter care facilities to allow police to transport the juvenile victims of prostitution to the facility in order to coordinate the release of the juvenile to the parent or legal guardian. These juveniles are often victims of human trafficking. Previously, when police locate a juvenile victim of prostitution, they simply provide them with a telephone number for the national human trafficking resource center hotline and release the juvenile to the custody of a parent or legal guardian.
Under the statute, the designated shelter care facility can make the minor or the minor’s family aware of services that are available to juvenile victims of prostitution, and it can facilitate notification of the Department of Children’s Services if it is determined that there are neglect/dependency issues involved.
National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline — State lawmakers also approved a law which changes the hotline that law enforcement provides to minor victims of prostitution from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline to the Tennessee Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline.
Statue of Limitations — The statute of limitations to prosecute promoting prostitution will be extended under a bill approved during the 2015 legislative session. Often times, minors do not realize they have been a victim of this crime until well after they are 18. This law extends the statute of limitations from 10 years to 25 years after the victim becomes 18 years of age to give victims more time to address the issue and prosecutors more time to prosecute offenders who are promoting prostitution.
Victims / Sex Offender Registry — Lawmakers passed legislation to help victims of human trafficking, sexual assault, or domestic abuse by authorizing victims who are on the sex offender registry because of a conviction for aggravated prostitution to file a petition with the sentencing court to be removed from the registry based on the person’s status as a victim of human trafficking, sexual assault, or domestic abuse. If the person was indeed a victim and they complied with all requirements of the sex offender registry, then the court shall grant the petition. This will allow these people to receive medical and rehabilitation treatment. Often now, at these treatment facilities, children are present, and if the victims are on the registry, they cannot go to treatment facilities to get the care they might need because they are not permitted to be around children. This bill will create a more fair circumstance for victims by allowing them to petition the court to not go on the registry.
Human Sex Trafficking / Penalties – State lawmakers approved a law in 2016 which increases penalties for traffickers who promote another person for prostitution. The offense is punishable as a Class E felony and requires the offender to register as a sex offender. The measure clarifies that the offense of promoting prostitution only applies when a person promotes or procures another person for prostitution so victims are not unduly punished. The purpose is for the penalties to apply to true traffickers and not potential victims who are forced to promote themselves.
The legislation also adds certain administrators and officers in the juvenile court system, the Tennessee Judicial Conference, the Tennessee General Sessions Judge Conference and the Clerks of Court Conference to this list of those who receive training from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) on human sex trafficking. Last year, the General Assembly provided funds for four additional special agents to implement a program to ensure that law enforcement, first responders and caseworkers had the training to identify, investigate and prosecute cases of human trafficking.
In addition, the law adds a definition of “caregiver” in the state’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS) code section to include those who may also be a trafficker. Adding this definition will allow DCS to provide services to minor victims of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. This is to ensure that safe placements can be made for the victims and the number of victims in Tennessee can be tracked.
The bill was brought to the legislature by the TBI after consulting with the Tennessee Human Sex Trafficking Advisory Council regarding improvements that could be made to help deter human trafficking and assist victims of the crime. Representatives from the DCS, the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Sheriff’s Association, the Public Defender’s Conference and several non-profits also contributed to the drafting of the legislation.
Human Trafficking / Prosecution – Human trafficking was also the subject of legislation passed in 2016 which clarifies that it is not a defense to prosecution under Tennessee law that the intended victim was actually a law enforcement officer. Law enforcement agencies across the state use undercover officers posing as victims in order to effectively prosecute those who engaged in human sex trafficking. The legislation also clarifies that it is not a defense to prosecution that the human trafficking victim is a minor who has consented.
A minor in Tennessee does not have the legal capacity to consent to sex with an adult and this measure explicitly removes this defense in human sex trafficking cases.
Budget — Among this initiatives in the 2017-2018 budget is inclusion of $550,000 in human trafficking grants to assist victims.
Human Trafficking / Commercial Sex Act — Among bills approved in 2017 is legislation which adds “trafficking for a commercial sex act” within the definition of “child sexual abuse” and “severe child abuse” under Tennessee law. Including child sex trafficking within this section of Tennessee law ensures that child welfare can intervene and provide services in cases that involve any form of commercial sexual exploitation of children. The legislation also changes the definition of “caregiver” in state law to allow victims to receive child welfare intervention.
The changes help ensure that child sex trafficking victims are properly identified and that child welfare does not face barriers in responding to these young victims. Bringing child sex trafficking within the definition of abuse facilitates a protective, coordinated, and consistent response to this form of sexual abuse.
Human Trafficking / Prostitution — Legislation which strengthens the penalty for patronizing prostitution was approved on final consideration in 2017. This statute increases the crime from a Class B to a Class A misdemeanor. The sentence for a Class B misdemeanor is up to six months imprisonment, a fine up to $500, or both; whereas, the sentence for a Class A misdemeanor is up to 11 months and 29 days in prison, a fine up to $2,000, or both. The bill aims to attack the demand-driven problem of human trafficking in Tennessee.
Human Trafficking / Minor Victims — Legislation was approved in 2017 which makes the identifying information of the minor victim of a criminal offense confidential and not open to inspection by members of the public, unless a court waives the confidentiality at the request of the minor’s parent. Minors who have been victimized, such as child pornography or sex trafficking victims, should not have their identifiable information available to the public in a manner that could potentially be discovered and used to further victimize the minor in the media or social media. Social media victimization is an ever increasing problem and has been cited in a number of suicides in Tennessee and across the country. The 2017 law provides a measure of protection for both children and families.