WMC5 INVESTIGATES: Prostitution prevalence by neighborhood uncovered

Published: Aug. 8, 2017 at 6:46 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 10, 2017 at 4:47 AM CDT
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(Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Memphis police officers made hundreds of prostitution-related arrests over the last year and a half, but where is prostitution happening the most?

Believe it or not, prostitution is something that neighbors in several Memphis neighborhoods can see from their own front porch.

"By the time you call the police, they'll be gone," said Chameka Duckett, whose house happens to sit in the middle of one of Memphis' busiest corners for prostitution. "You can tell by the cars and the way they dress."

The WMC Action News 5 Investigators uncovered arrest records for 529 people charged with selling, buying, or attempting to buy sex since January 2016.

Using MPD's data, we built an interactive database that reveals more than 60 of those arrests happened near the corner of Summer Avenue and Lester Street, which is right in front of Duckett's house.

"I have seen prostitutes and men go over here in this field," she said. "They go inside that house and have sex."

Our interactive map shows how widespread the problem actually is. Memphis police officers arrested prostitutes and their johns in every corner of the city.

The busiest locations were along Summer Ave, Lamar Avenue, and Germantown Parkway.

More than 40 of the arrests took place at the busy intersection of Germantown Parkway and Varnavas Street. It's the location of several hotels and restaurants, but it's also only seconds away from a school.

Records show MPD made 100 arrests within a mile and half of a school. Nearly half of those arrests occurred as after-school activities wrapped up between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

That is one of the reasons Duckett is on high alert when the school bell rings.

"They date inside the bushes," she said. "If you go over there, they probably have some clothes laid out where they lay down."

But, not all prostitutes work the streets.

While the areas with the most arrests also have some of the busiest traffic, the map doesn't tell the whole story.

Rachel Haaga is the executive director at Restore Corps, an organization committed to ending human trafficking in Tennessee.

Haaga said many victims are forced into the commercial sex industry. Many of them, she said, advertise online and are mobile within minutes.

"I think the biggest thing we all can do is change the conversation," said Haaga. "We had sex trafficking victims in our city that come from affluent East Memphis homes. We have them that come from impoverished South Memphis homes."

Haaga would like to see more focus on pimps and their customers.

The data provided by MPD showed only 13 arrests for patronizing prostitutes. That, obviously, does not include the number of arrests made by Shelby County Sheriff's Office and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

"This has been called a prostitution problem, but there would not be people prostituting themselves, or being prostituted by other people, if there weren't a demand to pay for sex," Haaga said.

As Restore Corps helps prostitutes find a way out, people like Duckett remain stuck in the middle.

"When my grandchildren come over here, I just watch them, I don't leave them out here for a minute," said Duckett, who has a front-row seat to an age-old problem.

"I'd rather deal with prostitutes than deal with the drug dealers and all the guns," said Haaga.

Restore Corps

IT Has To Stop

End Slavery Tennessee

TBI: Human trafficking resources

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