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New law to curb human trafficking takes effect

Staff Reports • Updated Jul 1, 2016 at 2:30 PM

NASHVILLE – Friday marks the implementation of a wide variety of new laws in Tennessee as the 2016-2017 fiscal year begins.  

This includes comprehensive legislation sponsored by Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, to combat to growing problem of human sex trafficking`by increasing penalties for traffickers who promote another person for prostitution.

“This is a widespread problem in Tennessee, and is especially disturbing as many victims of human trafficking are children,” said Overbey. “The legislation set to take effect on Friday enhances penalties against those who promote another person for prostitution, ensures that safe placements can be made for child victims and provides TBI training for officers and administrators of the courts.” 

The new law builds on human trafficking laws passed in previous session also sponsored by Overbey after a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report spotlighted the problem. The TBI report showed 73 of the state’s 95 counties have reported the crime within their borders. The study also showed 62 counties reported the presence of sex trafficking of minors. It also comes after the arrest of 32 men and women by the TBI and detectives with the Knoxville Police Department in May in the anti-trafficking operation called “Operation Someone Like Me.” That operation was the fifth operation of its kind in the state between the TBI and partner agencies to help identify investigate and prosecute trafficking and rescue victims.

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 Department of Children’s Services, the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Sheriff’s Association, the Public Defender’s Conference and several nonprofits also contributed to the drafting of the legislation.  

“These predators target Tennessee’s most vulnerable,” said Overbey. “That is why it is so important to strengthen penalties against those who exploit them. It is intolerable that in 2016, this crime is growing rather than decreasing.  We must continue to take the steps needed to address it.”

Specifically, the new law:

• increases penalties for traffickers who promote another person for prostitution to a Class E felony.

• clarifies that the offense of promoting prostitution only applies when a person promotes or procures another person for prostitution so that victims are not unduly punished.

• requires the offender register as a sex offender.

• includes administrators and officers in 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 TBI on human sex trafficking.

• adds a definition of “caregiver” in the state’s DCS code section to ensure that safe placements can be made for the victims and the number of victims in Tennessee can be tracked.

“This legislation should be a great help as we continue our war on this despicable crime,” Overbey said.

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