published Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Sex trafficking study cites Hamilton County

A Tennessee Bureau of Investigation survey lists Hamilton County as one of eight counties in the state that have reported more than 100 cases of adult sex-trafficking over a 24-month period.

Chattanooga Police Department, the county’s largest law enforcement agency, did not report a single documented case though.

The study was conducted by TBI and the Vanderbilt Center for Community Studies, which produced the study for the first time at the request of the General Assembly Select Committee on Children and Youth to study the problem and develop recommendations.

In Tennessee, 85 percent of counties surveyed state they have investigated at least one sex-trafficking case in a two-year period.

Other counties with more than 100 cases reported included Shelby, Davidson, Knox, Madison, Lawrence, Coffee and Franklin.

The study was conducted statewide by sending surveys to police and sheriffs, district attorneys, federal prosecutors, juvenile and family court office representatives, Department of Children’s Services and Guardian Ad Litem representatives.

Kristin Helm, spokeswoman for TBI, said at least one of the respondents from Hamilton County documented more than 100 cases. People conducting the study used the highest numbers of cases turned in by one of the respondents.

Helm said she could not specify which organization revealed a high case number of Hamilton County because the results were kept anonymous.

Federal agencies such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement sometimes build cases.

Jerry Redman, executive director of Second Life Chattanooga, a local nonprofit that focuses on ending sexual exploitation and slavery, said he has not read the study yet.

He said the fact that a study was conducted is groundbreaking.

“Nothing like this has been done in our state before,” he said.

When asked about the number of cases in the report he said he was not surprised about the high number.

The survey defines human trafficking as, “a for-profit sex act that is induced by force, fraud or coercion or in which the person performing such an act is under the age of 18 years.”

Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd said there are no documented cases of human sex-trafficking. He said while prostitution is an ongoing issue in the city, pimps are rarely used.

He said in many cases women charged with prostitution are drug addicts who are looking for cash to buy their next drug fix.

Aside from the survey, the study conducted several roundtable discussions and cases studies.

Recommendations included more training, strengthening laws, imposing heavier sentences, and offering more resources for victims.

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