A Nashville, Tennessee woman was sentenced to over 15 years in prison after pleading guilty in federal court to one count each of Sex Trafficking of a Minor and Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice. Defendant Teresa Ann West pled guilty to operating prostitution businesses in Nashville and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. A number of women worked as prostitutes for West, including four girls under the age of 18. West knew that these four girls were minors but instructed them to lie about their age to clients. Additionally, prosecutors are still working on cases against Teresa West's children. West's son, Casey, recruited minors to work as prostitutes for his mother and drove prostitutes to meetings with clients. West's daughter, Diana, worked as a prostitute for her mother.
According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Tennessee, prosecutors introduced evidence and testimony at the sentencing hearing showing how these underage girls were lured into working for West as well as how their experiences negatively affected their psychological health and well-being. West promised to help one girl, who was 17 years old and homeless. West then used the girl as a prostitute and exposed her to crack cocaine. Another girl stated in an interview that she too had gotten involved with prostitution and crack cocaine through West. West's son, Casey, also provided testimony at his mother's sentencing. He stated that West knew some of the girls were underage, but she still used them as prostitutes so she could make money and buy drugs.
Based on the testimony at the sentencing hearing, United States District Judge Todd Campbell imposed a sentence of 188 months imprisonment, followed by 10 years of supervised release. Additionally, West must register as a sex offender.
Child sex trafficking is a serious crime, and law enforcement agencies are stepping up efforts to apprehend those who engage in such conduct. Project Safe Childhood is a program sponsored by the Department of Justice aimed at fighting child exploitation, including sex trafficking and child prostitution. Since Project Safe Childhood was created in 2006, federal prosecutions for cases involving sexual exploitation of minors have increased 40 percent, and indictments were filed against nearly 2,500 defendants in 2009 alone. The Department of Justice also plans to expand the efforts of the Innocence Lost Initiative, a group of task forces led by the FBI that focuses child prostitution in the U.S. The Innocence Lost Initiative has helped secure convictions for over 500 commercial sex traffickers of children. As the national coalition of law enforcement offices at the local, state, and federal level work with prosecutors and agencies throughout the U.S. through these initiatives, the trend toward increased prosecutions in cases like Teresa West's is almost certain to continue.