NASHVILLE, TN.– According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, an undercover human trafficking operation conducted by TBI, the Brentwood Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations, and the office of 21st District Attorney General Kim Helper has resulted in mostly felony indictments for 22 men in a targeted effort to identify individuals attempting to purchase illicit sex from minors.
“Yet again, our collaborative effort proves human trafficking is happening every day in communities across Tennessee,” said Jason Locke, Deputy Director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. “For years, our state has led the way in fighting this injustice, and we won’t stop doing whatever we can to send the message that it has to stop.”
During the first three days of the operation in early October, two female TBI Agents posed as individuals offering sex on Backpage.com. During the course of the resulting text or phone conversations, the Agents identified themselves as 14 and 16 years old. Those who were undeterred and still traveled to the location to meet for the purpose of illicit sex included a computer programmer, automotive engineer, construction worker, and a chef.
“This is, without doubt, a demand-driven crime, involving men from all kinds of backgrounds” said TBI Director Mark Gwyn. “We need more men to stand up and talk honestly about how we got here as a culture and what we need to do to fix it. Unless we’re willing to hold one other accountable, we will continue to see too many people victimized by this kind of crime, with no one to blame but ourselves.”
On the fourth and final day of the operation, undercover male Agents responded to advertisements on Backpage.com in an effort to identify and recover potential victims of human trafficking. Two women responded, but declined services offered through a partner nonprofit agency.
“Educating law enforcement and the public alike on the prevalence of human trafficking in society today has become a priority that requires our attention,” said Brentwood Police Chief Jeff Hughes. “I would like to commend the TBI on conducting this undercover operation, and similar operations around the state, in combating Human Trafficking. The Brentwood Police Department stands ready to work with the TBI and our law enforcement partners to target and arrest those who would promote this type of criminal activity.”
At the time of this release, 11 of the 22 individuals implicated in the operation remained in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“ICE/HSI is proud to once again partner with TBI on this important effort,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees HSI’s efforts in Tennessee. “Apprehending illegal aliens who seek to prey on our youth in Tennessee remains a top priority. ICE/HSI stands ready to provide the appropriate protections to the victims of this form of modern-day slavery.”
“Unfortunately, the results of this joint operation demonstrate the need for continued vigilance for signs of human trafficking in our communities,” said 21st District Attorney General Kim Helper. “The fact that so many men were willing to engage in sexual activity with who they believed to be a 14- and 16-year-old is shocking. Our office will continue to vigorously pursue and prosecute individuals involved in any form of human trafficking.”
All of the individuals were booked into the Williamson County Jail on a variety of bond amounts. Updated details and photographs of the indicted subjects will be posted online at http://www.tbinewsroom.com.
Earlier this year, as part of its ongoing effort to educate the public about the crime of human trafficking, the TBI relaunched it website providing information on warning signs, Tennessee’s trafficking statute, state-specific research, and nonprofits working across Tennessee to provide support and services for victims of human trafficking. Additional information can be found online at www.ITHasToStop.com, and on Twitter at @ITHasToStopTN.