||Children Being Sold for Sex in Memphis
Memphis, Tenn. - Children being held captive and sold for sex, some call it modern day slavery and it's happening right here in Memphis and the Mid-South.
- TN lawmakers are calling on a full scale investigation of child sex trafficking.
- International child-sex traffic ring busted in Memphis in 2008.
- Sex with children is being advertised on common websites.
Child-Sex Traffic Ring Bust in Memphis
The FBI has been investigating human trafficking for years. Now the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has been asked by lawmakers to find out how big of a problem it really is.
The images are shocking but the details behind child trafficking are even harder to stomach.
"It's more serious than most people realize," said Ryan Dalton with Operation Broken Silence.
In 2008, Memphis federal officials were awarded for dismantling an international child sex-trafficking ring.
One victim told investigators, at age 13, she was smuggled from Mexico with the promise of a job but was forced into prostitution once she to got to Tennessee.
At the age of 14 she says she was having sex with as many as 40 men a day and was working out of Memphis homes on Victory Heights, which were once brothels. Gerald Ware recently moved into one of the homes and says he still gets strangers visiting.
"Like I said we had a couple visitors knock on the door asking for somebody, I said you got the wrong address. They gotta be sick in the head to even involve themselves with kids anyway," said Ware.
Websites Promoting Child-Sex Trafficking in Memphis
Operation Broken Silence is a Memphis based human rights group, fighting human trafficking. Dalton says finding child trafficking is as easy as logging onto a computer.
"Just as you can chose between condos, roommates, etc, you can also select escorts. Some of these ads are people who are trafficked," said Dalton.
In September the Tennessee Attorney General joined other states, calling for a website called Backpage.com, to shut down its adult section, saying that ads for prostitution - including ads trafficking children - are rampant on the site.
"They're advertised as 18 or 19 but when you look at the pictures, look like little kids," said Dalton.
Dalton and Operation Broken Silence recently finished a 3 month investigation of the website. Dalton says during their investigation, they called authorities to report three cases where the photos of escorts, advertised in Memphis, were clearly of children.
He says a picture of one girl was extraordinarily disturbing.
"She looked totally terrified, she was in the back of a camper which is also indicative of trafficking."
Memphis Areas Advertised
Dalton took us to some of the commonly advertised locations where they believe traffickers are looking to sexually exploit children including near the Memphis Airport.
"An airport in any city is a common place for trafficking because you have motels and businessmen around there."
Sam Cooper is another place trafficking is believed to be taking place.
"A lot of ads show up there because inexpensive motels throughout there where people can travel to easily. The one most strange to us, around Wolfchase Mall, a lot were advertised there," said Dalton.
Dalton says that's because it's close to an interstate and there are a lot of people around.
He adds that human trafficking can be a lucrative business for pimps.
"Some people say as high as $1,000,000 a year, $500,000 is not uncommon if a girl is forced to sleep with 3 maybe 2 guys a night."
The FBI agrees, it's a lucrative business. Last year, the bureau started a civil rights task force, in Memphis one of the few in the country that focuses on human trafficking.
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jeremy Baker says those buying sex, may not realize they're dealing with a victim of trafficking.
"They may not be making a differentiation on whether these people were forced into this or not. Unfortunately in many instances the person is there against their will, have been tricked into doing this," said Agent Baker,
The FBI won't comment on the number of cases or children they believe are being trafficked in Memphis.
"Putting hard numbers on an industry cloaked in deceit is difficult to do," said Dalton.
But lawmakers want to know.
Lawmakers Get Involved
A legislative group has asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to conduct an in-depth study on child trafficking in Tennessee. The report is expected to be complete in May.
"I think we'll find, similar to our study, trafficking is more serious than the community could possibly think."
Democrat, Beverly Marrero of Memphis has proposed 2 bills this session. One bill would post human trafficking hotlines in airports, motels and truck stops the other would allow authorities to seize the assets of traffickers.
Dalton says he'd like to see the harsher penalties for human traffickers in the U.S.
"Most people think slavery don't exist anymore, other parts of the world, but it's definitely modern slavery," said Dalton.
Operation Broken Silence is working to build an aftercare response system for victims of trafficking because once freed, some victims have nowhere to go and may end up being re-trafficked.
For information on Operation Broken Silence go here: http://www.operationbrokensilence.org/?page_id=2269.