A couple arrested in Birmingham on child sex trafficking charges were nabbed as part of a larger sting by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as part of a national crackdown on human trafficking.
Our Birmingham criminal defense lawyers understand the pair, who are from South Carolina, have been charged with two counts each of first-degree human trafficking and two counts of first-degree promoting prostitution.
If convicted, these two would be the first in Jefferson County and among the first in Alabama to face penalties under a 2010 state law barring human trafficking.
The sting involved some 47 FBI divisions in 76 cities across the U.S. Authorities say more than 100 minors victimized by a large sex trafficking ring were rescued, The youth were reportedly working as prostitutes, and a total of 150 “pimps” were arrested nationwide on both state and federal charges.
The youngest alleged victim was 13, though one told officers she began working for the organization when she was just 9.
We don’t know the exact circumstances of the couple reportedly operating out of Jefferson County, but we do know that authorities have said the majority of those arrested had been making use of Backpage.com, a classified website, both to lure minors to their operation and subsequently to illegally sell their services.
Backpage.com’s “adult services” section is notorious for this kind of action. Craigslist.com at one time used to be a popular site for the same kind of activity, but the website later shut down that section of classified service.
As of late last year, officials were reporting a rise in human trafficking cases in Alabama, partially because of increased rates of reporting but also due to its proximity to three states known to have the highest rates of human trafficking nationwide: Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.
Birmingham has been identified as a destination for those out-of-state in the underground sex trade business, authorities have said.
House Bill 432, which passed in Alabama in 2010, makes it against the law for a person, by coercion or deception, to cause another person to work or perform services having financial value or require that person to perform certain sexual activities. It also made it a crime to knowingly obtain, recruit, entice, solicit, induce, threaten, isolate, harbor, hold, restrain, transport, provide or maintain any minor for the purpose of causing a minor to engage in sexual servitude.
The law expressly denies “reasonable mistake of age” as a defense for liability under the law.
Conviction of this crime is a Class A felony in Alabama, meaning defendants could potentially face up to life in prison.
Human trafficking in the second-degree, which is when someone profits from human trafficking. This is a Class B felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, though a person will serve a minimum of 10 years if the alleged victim was a minor under the age of 18.
Obstruction of human trafficking enforcement in Alabama is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.