NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Operation Safe and Sound, launched by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, identified children who are considered to be “at-risk” within Davidson County. The multi-agency operation was launched in February and found 24 children were missing in the area, based on specific criteria.
“There’s an incredible demand, unfortunately, tragically for children, and as long as there’s demand for that, as long as there is little risk and high reward, we’re going to continue to see this crime increase and increase,” said Margie Quin, the CEO of “End Slavery TN.”
The criteria for the operation included a history of running away for extended periods of time or being a victim of human trafficking. In two days, nonprofits and government agencies worked together to make sure those at-risk children were safe.
Quin explained identifying missing children can be a tall task, especially since many of them are considered “runaways,” a word that can carry a stigma with it. Already, End Slavery TN has been called in to help children as young as six and 10 years old.
“If we don’t intervene with that 10-year-old, if they’re not given really intensive services at 10, they’re going to be running and ruining and running at 11,12,13,14 years old, and so we have a unique opportunity based on identification, and the good news is we are identifying these kids earlier and earlier,” explained Quin.
Currently, in Nashville, there are five children listed on the TBI’s Missing Children list. The goal of the operation was to provide services and contacts that will stick with the children who need it and to make sure they have access to a safe environment. In the coming weeks, agencies will continue the efforts to locate those children who were not found during the past operation.
“We’re not just here to be law enforcement and take these kids and go put them right back where they were or what have you. We are trying to do a full wrap-around service,” explained Jeremy Lofquest the Assistant Special Agent over the Human Trafficking Unit with the TBI.
Just last week, the TBI arrested 13 men out of Hendersonville, accused of seeking illicit sex from minors. The undercover operation shined a light on just how much children in Tennessee need help.
“There’s an awareness part that has to go another step further that says look this is not boys being boys, this isn’t something that’s acceptable on any level,” explained Lofquest.
Both Quin and Lofquest say the operation would not have gone successfully without the help of all agencies working together. Quin explained this is the first time, this many government and non-profit agencies have worked together. The agencies providing the support include the Metro Nashville Police Department Human Trafficking Unit, Metro Youth Services, Metro Juvenile Courts, TBI Human Trafficking Task Force, Department of Children’s Services, FBI and the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Other non-government organizations, End Slavery Tennessee, Epic Girl, and Free for Life International, joined in the work of this operation.
“Since the formation of the Special Victims Division Human Trafficking Section a little over a year ago, we have seen over and over that our children are the most vulnerable part of our communities for being trafficked,” says Captain Greg Davis with Metro Nashville Police. “We want to encourage as many people as possible to learn the key indicators and signs of human trafficking in order to make our communities safer from this crime. Information on these indicators and signs can be found at notforsalenashville.com.”
“We continue to collaborate with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to locate missing children, ensure their safety and provide them the treatment and services they need,” according to DCS Commissioner Jennifer Nichols. “This operation also allowed us to follow up with youth who were previously recovered to ensure their safety and well-being. I am grateful to the TBI and our law enforcement partners for making the safety of missing children a top priority.”
Operation Safe and Sound was a pilot program, and future similar plans are being considered for other areas of the state.
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call the TBI’s helpline at 1-855-55-TNHTH.