State bill aims to curtail child prostitution, human trafficking

Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 3:04pm
Staff reports

New state legislation aims to curtail child prostitution and human trafficking in Tennessee.

Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, and Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, introduced the bill to increase penalties for patronizing or promoting child prostitution. The legislation also gives law enforcement the authority to impound any vehicle used in the commission of the crime.

“Trafficking children for sex is intolerable,” Maggart said. “This legislation would strengthen penalties against those promoting and patronizing these young victims.”

Patronizing prostitution is a misdemeanor in Tennessee under the present law. The legislation would make it a felony to patronize prostitution from a person who is younger than 18 years or who is mentally defective. Penalties for promoting prostitution would be increased from a Class E to a Class D felony when a minor is involved. Additionally, the proposal specifies that if it is determined that a person charged with prostitution is under age 18, she or he 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.”

Last fall, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent Margie Quinn told the legislature’s Joint Committee on Children and Youth that child prostitution is increasing dramatically in the state. Quinn blamed Tennessee’s proximity to Atlanta, which she said is the worst city in the nation for the crime.

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.

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2 Comments on this post:

By: not_guilty on 1/27/11 at 1:57

A couple of questions:

Does the bill include a requirement that the defendant act knowingly or intentionally with respect to the age of the prostitute?

Does "mentally defective", for purposes of this bill, carry the same definition as applies to statutes prohibiting rape and sexual battery? (“Mentally defective” in that context means that a person suffers from a mental disease or defect which renders that person temporarily or permanently incapable of appraising the nature of the person's conduct.)

By: Loner on 1/28/11 at 2:31

According to this article: The legislation also gives law enforcement the authority to impound any vehicle used in the commission of the crime.

That's inappropriately punitive, IMO.....and guilt is presumed at the time of arrest. The presumption of innocence seems to be in jeopardy here.

What about the defendant's spouse and family, who also need that vehicle to get to work, school etc.? Are they to suffer this instant punishment as well?

Not_guilty pointed to a potential defect in the proposal.

This bill should be completely vetted by outside council before enacting it. That vetting could save on potential litigation costs going forward.

Don't get me wrong, I am not defending child prostitution, or the act of soliciting a prostitute. I'm just saying that this well-intentioned legislation may have a few flaws and enforcement could result in negative unforeseen consequences for innocent third parties.

Contemplate before you legislate.