Memphis, TN

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

Memphis is the largest city in Tennessee, with approximately 673,000 residents. Prostitution and sex trafficking have been identified by local and national law enforcement agencies as persistent and formidable problems in the city. For example, in October 2013, a Memphis man was sentenced to over 44 years in federal prison for using violence to force eight women and two teens into prostitution. Ten victims, some as young as 15 years of age, testified at trial and said the trafficker forced them into prostitution by beating them with belts and crowbars and burning them with irons and boiling water. One victim testified the man forced her to engage in prostitution when she was pregnant with his child and induced her labor through a severe beating. This is just one of many sex trafficking cases known to have occurred in Memphis, and prostitution is considered a widespread problem.  The city has also had documented cases of serials killers who specifically targeted women selling sex. Other problems include a case where a sex seller attempted to run over a truck stop employee who tried to get her to stop soliciting parked truckers.

Although the Memphis Police Department conducts occasional john stings to attack consumer-level demand, the vast majority of the city’s anti-prostitution efforts continue to focus on the arrest of prostituted women. In a 2002 white paper produced by the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, MPD interviewees reported that this was often due to “the smaller number of female officers available for undercover operations, and the perception of greater physical risk to officers posing as prostitutes” (Maloney & Mobley, 2002).

Tactics appeared to somewhat shift in April 2008, when Memphis Police and the Shelby County District Attorney General’s Office announced they would begin seizing and impounding the cars of those charged with prostitution-related offenses. That same year, the city began releasing some of the names of arrested johns to the public. After 2008, there were few reports of large-scale john sweeps.  However, in October, 2018, a reverse sting resulted in the arrest of 21 sex buyers.

In recent years, a series of high-profile sex trafficking arrests in Memphis have drawn national attention. While some cases have involved the trafficking of adult women, the vast majority have exposed traffickers engaged in the sexual exploitation of children. To address the issue, Tennessee state legislators created an anti-sexual slavery bill in June 2011, insisting minors arrested on suspicion of prostitution no longer be prosecuted but instead returned to their families. While this policy change has no doubt facilitated law enforcement in the recovery of victims, there is still substantial ground to cover–  four new and distinct cases of domestic minor sex trafficking were brought to court in 2012 alone.

Key Sources

State Tennessee
Type City
Population 674028
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