Human trafficking sting highlights online demand in Middle Tennessee

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – They’re from different places and have different backgrounds, but there is one thing they do have in common– they’re all under arrest for human trafficking just outside of Nashville.

A total of 11 men were arrested in Spring Hill in an undercover human-trafficking sting.

While many may find it shocking, it’s more common in Middle Tennessee than you may think.

“We’re not surprised by these things anymore because we know this is happening in every zip code throughout the state,” said Derri Smith, founder of End Slavery Tennessee.

“At the beginning, it was just our detectives pretty much wanted to determine what type of activity was going on in our city,” Spring Hill Police Lt. Justin Whitwell told News 2.

The Spring Hill Police joined with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to conduct a sting operation online, catching the 11 men from all over Middle Tennessee soliciting sex from the person they thought they were talking to.

“When you think about human trafficking, there has to be sex in exchange for something of value–money, drugs, whatever, and force, fraud or coercion if the person is 18 and over,” Smith explained, “But if it’s a child, any child use for commercial sex is a victim of human trafficking.”

The men range in age from 19 to 72 years old, from Nashville to Tompkinsville, more than half of them charged with soliciting a minor or patronizing prostitution from a minor.

“If you had a news story and you said there was a hotel down the block that was selling children 24/7 for sex, we would do anything to stop it,” Smith said, “But the truth is that is exactly what’s happening, only the hotel is online, and the ads are online.”

National Human Trafficking Hotline statistics from 2018 show the numbers growing in Tennessee– up to 165 cases reported, but Smith says it’s more like 100 children a month.

Just a few months ago, 16 men were arrested in a similar sting in Rutherford County. It’s these operations, Smith says, that target the demand.

“Nashville’s a popular place for trafficking because we have money, we have a good economy — that’s why traffickers do this, they want to make their money,” Smith said, “Also we have people who visit, who sometimes leave their morals at home.”

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