Human Sex Trafficking

Human trafficking has long been an international concern, but did you know that trafficking could be happening in your own neighborhood? News features on this topic often concentrate on women and children in third world countries who have been forced into the sex trade industry involuntarily, but this industry has evolved into one of the most lucrative businesses worldwide. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, human sex trafficking is "the fastest-growing business of organized crime and the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world." What you may not know is that human trafficking is growing in the United States and takes place right here in Middle Tennessee.

The Problem

The Polaris Project defines human trafficking as "a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others." Sadly, victims often include adults over 18 as well as an overwhelming number of American children. "The best estimates, the best data, suggests that we at least have 100,000 American kids a year who are victimized through the practice of child prostitution; that number ranges as high as 300,000," said a spokesperson from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in a 2009 report.

Tina Frundt, Founder and Executive Director of a domestic sex trafficking recovery center in the Washington D.C. area, knows firsthand the deception and trauma of this criminal act:

"I was 14 years old, and the way the pimp came at me was that at first I didn’t even know he was a pimp. He came at me like a boyfriend. Yes, he was an older boyfriend but he cared about me.... Six months later he told me, 'Let’s run away together. We can have a beautiful house and family.' And I did believe him, and we ran away, and then the story changed and I met the other girls that he had in his stable. And I had to go out every night and work the streets – the alternative was being gang-raped by a group of pimps while everyone watched."

Shared Hope International, a leader in advocacy to eradicate sex trafficking worldwide, conducted a national study on domestic minor sex trafficking in 2009 which revealed a series of issues related to the protection and treatment of sex trafficking victims. First, victims are frequently misidentified as criminals. Traffickers often provide their victims with false identification and/or force them into illegal activities for the purpose of diminishing their credibility. A victim who is picked up by law enforcement is charged not as a minor, but as an adult. The mislabeling of these persons means that they are ineligible for the appropriate treatment resources. The average age that a young girl becomes the victim of prostitution is between 12 and 14. That age is even younger for boys ( Traffickers are looking for only one thing: vulnerability.

Traffickers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are not just strangers but oftentimes are "boyfriends", friends, or family members. WestCare Nevada, a shelter for at-risk youth in LasVegas, reported that approximately 30% of the domestically trafficked minors they serve have been exploited by a family member ( Federal and state laws are beginning to address this issue of prosecuting traffickers more stringently. In 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was made a federal law for the purpose of preventing victimization, protecting identified victims from their perpetrators, and prosecuting traffickers. Since that time, additional federal and state laws have been adopted to more appropriately prosecute perpetrators.


Close to Home: Trafficking in Middle Tennessee

In 2011, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Vanderbilt Center for Community Studies conducted a study to assess human sex trafficking in Tennessee. Over two thirds of the counties in the state reported at least one case of sex trafficking of a minor in 2011. In Middle Tennessee specifically, the following counties reported over 100 cases of adult sex trafficking in 2011: Lawrence, Davidson, Coffee, and Franklin. Both Davidson and Coffee counties also reported over 100 cases of sex trafficking of a minor in the same year (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation). Interviews with law enforcement revealed that, in terms of combating sex trafficking in Tennessee, they feel understaffed, inadequately trained, and unqualified to address the issue.

Bringing this issue to light has prompted substantial action by the state of Tennessee. In its 2017 report card, Shared Hope gave Tennessee an A for the laws put in place to fight human trafficking. Our score of 96.5 was higher than any state in the country.


How You Can Help

  • Play an active role in preventing the victimization of women and children. Many victims of sex trafficking were once victims of child sexual abuse as young children. Any reports of child sexual abuse should be directed to the Department of Children’s Services immediately.
  • Encourage trafficking victims to seek help. Victims are encouraged to call the TBI’s Tennessee Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-855-55-TNHTH.
  • Volunteer. There are a number of Middle Tennessee nonprofits that provide direct services to trafficking victims or advocate on their behalf. Consider volunteering with one of these organizations. Find them on this Issue Overview by clicking "View Related Organizations" on the left side of this page.
  • Make a donation. Consider making a gift, large or small, to one of the organizations working daily to serve victims and eradicate trafficking in our region. Find them on this Issue Overview by clicking "View Organizations".
  • Connect with CFMT’s Women’s Fund. The purpose of the Women’s Fund is to improve the lives of women and girls in need throughout Middle Tennessee. The Women’s Fund hosted a forum in 2012 on the topic of human trafficking and continues to partner with state and local officials on eradicating sex trafficking in Middle Tennessee. Find information on how The Women’s Fund, in conjunction with the Tennessee Women’s Funds Alliance, is addressing this issue here.
  • Advocate for stronger trafficking laws. Connect with a local or national advocacy group. Together we can make a strong statement to local and state representatives to make Middle Tennessee a safer place for women and children.


Additional Resources

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Vanderbilt’s Center for Community Studies 2011 Report on Human Sex Trafficking and Its Impact on Children and Youth

End Slavery Tennessee

Polaris Project: for a world without slavery

Shared Hope International