Editorial Note: After publication of this piece, Michael Kohlmeyer was declared not guilty. The jury’s previous verdict noted below was overturned by Criminal Court Judge Mark Fishburn. Reports indicate that the Nashville District Attorney’s Office plan to appeal this ruling.
He wanted to buy girls “just over 8, not over 16.” That’s what Michael Kohlmeyer told the person answering responses to an online ad for sex. Thankfully for our children, the person answering the phone was actually an undercover Metro Nashville (TN) police detective.
Men wanting to purchase sex with a child are, unfortunately, not uncommon. What sets Mr. Kohlmeyer apart is that he was the defendant in the Davidson County (Nashville) District Attorney’s Office’s first successful prosecution of a customer of sex trafficking under Tennessee’s enhanced human sex trafficking laws. Kohlmeyer was found guilty of Trafficking for a Commercial Sex Act—convicted of offering to pay $5,000 for sex with a 12-year-old girl and sentenced to 22 years imprisonment.
The case was built on a 2014 law increasing the penalty for patronizing a prostituted person who is under 18 from a Class E felony to a Class B felony, and to a Class A felony for victims under 15.
During Kohlmeyer’s sentencing hearing, End Slavery Tennessee called on a strong volunteer base to pack a courtroom that would have otherwise stood virtually empty. Our intent was to send a clear message that the community cared and would not tolerate the purchase of our children.
Prosecuting those who purchase sex with minors under trafficking laws is one of the tools Tennessee now uses to stem the tide of demand for purchased sex. As with any business, if demand decreases, so does the motivation for suppliers.
In other approaches to lessen demand, End Slavery Tennessee (ESTN) uses a curriculum from the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (C.A.A.S.E.) with middle and high school boys. These sessions leverage an interactive approach to engage young men in dialogue about the sex trade and empower them to stand as allies against sexual exploitation and violence.
ESTN also teaches a session in the local John school, letting men arrested for soliciting prostituted persons know that their choices drive human trafficking of children. And we educate the participants that adult prostituted women invariably have been abused as children, often multiple times, and that customers perpetuate the abuse when they buy sex.
We’ve shared on our social media and in trainings the excellent research and infographics from Shared Hope’s Demanding Justice Project.
In May 2015, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) agents conducted an undercover operation to identify potential victims of trafficking, arrest those seeking to purchase illicit sex, and learn more about the specific nuances of this type of crime. Among the fourteen men arrested were a pastor, an Army lieutenant, a farmer, and a small business owner. Their names were printed in local newspapers and on local news media sites.
Law enforcement and prosecutors are very much in the game now in Tennessee, thanks to strengthened laws, effective NGO partnership, years of awareness and education efforts and now the energized and organized efforts of those who enforce and prosecute. Other states take notice—our traffickers now seek relocation to a more hospitable business climate. By employing such tools and efforts in every state, we can drive many traffickers out of business.