Knox County sex trafficking arrests highlight problem and how to stop it

Local News

An undercover operation led to the arrest of two Knoxville men accused of trafficking women. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Knox County Sheriff’s Office worked last week to identify people looking to have sex with women under 18 years old, as well as those trafficking others for commercial sex acts.

     More | Two men arrested in TBI-Knox County Sheriff’s Office human trafficking investigation

More than 100 human trafficking cases were reported in 2015 in Knox County, according to the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

“It happens every single day across the state in every county,” said Leslie Earhart with TBI.

Organizations that hope to end the problem describe human trafficking as any time a commercial sex act is exchanged for something of value including money, food, shelter or drugs and it involves force, fraud or coercion.

“Trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise in the world, but it’s the fastest growing and the reason why is because I can sell a person for $200, 20 times in one day and I still have them. People literally see individuals as renewable resources,” said Devin Payne, executive director of Street Hope TN.

Each case is different, in some a vicitm may be kidnapped and forced into trafficking, a victim may also be groomed, manipulated and lured online.

“Something that seems to surprise residents is that often times parents serve as traffickers. They may sell their child in exchange for drugs or money,” added Earhart.

This problem exists simply because there’s a demand. Men and boys can be trafficked and there are a number of warning signs.

“For instance a victim may be branded with a specific tattoo. They may be in the presence of someone who controls their every move. Maybe they’re not in control of their possessions, maybe they don’t have their own money to spend, fear of authority figures. If asked if they know where they are, they can’t name what city they’re in,” said Earhart.

Law enforcement is able to pinpoint possible traffickers through tips and operations like the one last week in Knox County.

Street Hope TN is a Knoxville non-profit working to bring an end to domestic minor sex trafficking in Tennessee.

“Let’s train more people on what trafficking is because more people trained equals more victims identified. Prevention, if we can educate more people about what it is, then we have less victims in the first place,” added Payne.

For those who don’t believe it’s happening in our community, Payne wants you to remember, “You may choose to look away but you can never again say you didn’t know.”

CCAHT says they were on site during TBI-KCSO’s undercover operation where advocates were comforting possible survivors. The organization has dedicated safe housing, case management and a number of other resources.

If you’re in trouble and need help, you can call their 24-hour crisis line at (865) 292-0285 or Tennessee’s crisis line at 855-558-6484.

There are training tools available for parents, teachers, even kids to help prevent sexual exploitation before it happens. If you’d like to request a speaker or training session with the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking, you can click here.

If you’d like to sign your teen up for an internet safety training session, or if you’re a parent, teacher or adult wanting to learn more about the dangers in the digital world, click here to request a training session through Street Hope TN.

For more information about the problem of human trafficking in Tennessee, click here.

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