Two bills were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week that build on the legislature’s ongoing efforts to attack the problem of child prostitution and human trafficking in Tennessee. The legislation is part of a series of bills designed to enhance 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.
Among other provisions, Senate Bill 447 repeals the Class A felony for trafficking for commercial sex acts of a child under 15 years of age and replaces it with a sentence enhancement for trafficking commercial sex acts of a minor. This action would require the offender to be sentenced within Range II which adds 12 to 20 years in jail time for convicted offenders. The bill also enhances trafficking for commercial sex acts from a Class B felony to a Class A felony when the offense is gang-related, which adds 10.49 years in prison time if the offender is a criminal gang member or the offense constitutes a criminal gang offense.
The legislation additionally requires that those persons convicted of “patronizing prostitution of a minor” must register with the state’s Sex Offender Registry and changes the national hotline a minor arrested for prostitution should call to the “TennesseeHumanTraffickingResourceCenter hotline.”
Senate Bill 446 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.