On February 9, 2018, Kentucky.gov issued a press release stating that Tim Nolan, former district judge and school board member in Campbell County, Kentucky, has pled guilty to the crime of promoting human trafficking of minors in addition to a slew of other charges. The 71-year-old Nolan faces up to twenty years in prison for his offenses. The Kentucky.gov press release reported that Nolan pled guilty to 21 of the 28 felony charges and two misdemeanors on which he was indicted and will face a fine of $110,000, most of which will go to the Kentucky Human Trafficking Victims Fund, established in 2013.
There were allegedly 19 victims involved in this case, and the dates of the crimes range between 2010 and 2017. Attorney General Andy Beshear stated in the press release that, “[t]he punishment in this case does not undo the trauma inflicted on the victims, but it brings closure and some justice.”Cincinnati.com reports that Nolan allegedly used drugs, threats of eviction, and threats of arrest to force women and girls under the age of 18 to engage in commercial sex acts.
On some of the charges, Nolan has reportedly entered Alford pleas, which will allow him to later appeal some of the charges. An Alford plea allows a defendant to admit that there is enough evidence for a conviction without admitting to the charged behavior. Mirroring Nolan’s seeming reluctance to take responsibility for his alleged role in these crimes, Cincinnati.com also reported that Nolan’s attorney, Margo Grubbs, made arguments that downplayed Nolan’s actions, stating, “[Nolan] took full personal responsibility for these acts that in his potential day and generation would not necessarily be considered to rise to the level of human trafficking.” Nolan’s attorney also cited to his public service as a judge, claiming it should be taken into account in sentencing. Grubbs stated that while those who commit offenses must be punished, the punishment, “has to be balanced by what they have given.” Of course, one could argue that the gravity of Mr. Nolan’s criminal acts was, in fact, exacerbated by the fact that he held a position of public trust and power for so long, as both a judge and a school board member.
This case follows a similar one in Oklahoma which reportedly involved another man in a position of power. Ralph Shortey, a married father of four and a former state legislator, was charged with engaging in child prostitution and possession of child pornography last year. NewsOK reports that on November 30, 2017, Shortey pled guilty to one count of child sex trafficking following an encounter with a 17-year-old boy he allegedly met through Craigslist. The Washington Post reports that the sex trafficking charge is punishable by at least ten years in prison, and federal law requires defendants to serve at least 75% of their sentence. In Shortey’s case, The Washington Post reports that he will serve at least 8 ½ years, depending on the judge’s sentencing decision.
Unfortunately, these are not the only instances in which men of influence, particularly with political or law enforcement power, have been embroiled in human trafficking related charges, as a Secret Service member detailed to the Vice President was arrested in April of 2017 following an alleged meeting with a prostituted person.
While the recent “Time’s Up” movement has called attention to the fact that men in power often use their power to exploit women in the workplace, this phenomenon is nothing new—and it is not limited to the workplace. Furthermore, the #MeToo movement has called attention to the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault. What both of these movements currently fail to recognize, however, is the experience of the prostituted person. Prostituted people are treated as a lower class—as a commodity to be bought and sold instead of the human beings that they are. Men in power can deny their predatory actions as “locker room talk” and “boys being boys,” and continue to pay to sexually assault and harass women.
There is always a power differential between the trafficked person, her trafficker, and the men who purchase her for sex that is exploited to keep the trafficked person compliant. This differential is particularly striking, however, when the sex buyer is a man of power. It is time that we start recognizing the role that abuse of prostituted women plays in the broader sex discrimination that women everywhere face, particularly by holding sex buyers and traffickers accountable. It is promising in these cases that the men in power are being held accountable for their actions, which will send a clear message that targeting prostituted people will not be tolerated.
It is also important to note that generational differences cannot be used as an “excuse” for trafficking humans, nor can someone’s public service outweigh the severity of the charge that they face, as Mr. Nolan’s attorney Margo Grubbs heavily implied in her statements. Instead of focusing on the complaints of sex buyers who feel they are being unfairly punished, we should be focusing on how to help their numerous victims, which includes holding their abusers responsible. With this in mind, the CSE Institute applauds the work of law enforcement officials, including both the police officers and prosecutors, for their work in holding these sex buyers accountable for their actions, as well as for focusing on demand in the aforementioned cases.
All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University.