The Issue

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others. As defined under U.S. federal law, victims of human trafficking include children involved in the sex trade, adults age 18 or over who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into different forms of “labor or services,” such as domestic workers held in a home, or farm-workers forced to labor against their will. The factors that each of these situations have in common are elements of force, fraud, or coercion that are used to control people.  Then, that control is tied to inducing someone into commercial sex acts, or labor or services.  Every year, human traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits by victimizing millions of people around the world, and here in the United States.  Human trafficking is considered to be one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world.

Human trafficking is a market-driven criminal industry that is based on the principles of supply and demand. Many factors make children and adults vulnerable to human trafficking. However, human trafficking does not exist solely because many people who are vulnerable to exploitation. Instead, human trafficking is fueled by a demand for cheap labor or services, or for commercial sex acts. Human traffickers are those who victimize others in their desire to profit from the existing demand.  To ultimately solve the problem of human trafficking, it is essential to address these demand-driven factors, as well as to alter the overall market incentives of high-profit and low-risk that traffickers currently exploit.

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Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking occurs when people are forced or coerced into the commercial sex trade against their will.  Child sex trafficking includes any child involved in commercial sex.  Sex traffickers frequently target vulnerable people with histories of abuse and then use violence, threats, lies, false promises, debt bondage, or other forms of control and manipulation to keep victims involved in the sex industry.  Sex trafficking exists within the broader commercial sex trade, often at much larger rates than most people realize or understand.  Sex trafficking has been found in a wide variety of venues of the overall sex industry, including residential brothels, hostess clubs, online escort services, fake massage businesses, strip clubs, and street prostitution.

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Sex Trafficking in Tennessee

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation presented the Tennessee Human Sex Trafficking Study: The Impact on Children and Youth 2011. With the assistance of Vanderbilt University and survey participation from more than 1,000 law enforcement officers and social service providers across the state who  investigate sex trafficking cases or come in contact with victims, the TBI produced the first-ever research publication on human sex trafficking focused just on Tennessee.  The results of the study were shocking. Human trafficking and sex slavery in Tennessee is more common than previously believed possible.  (Mark Gwyn, Director,Tennessee Bureau of Investigation).

State Map Analyses:TBI 2011 report cover

All Trafficking:

  • 78 counties, 85%, reported at least one case of HST in 2009-2010.  In comparison, 62 of 95 counties reported gang activity.


Minor Trafficking:

  • 68 counties, 72%, reported at least one case of HST in 2009-2010.
  • 100 cases: Shelby, Davidson, Coffee, Knox
  • 50 cases:  16 countie
  • 26-50 cases: Hamilton


Adult Trafficking:

  • 69 counties, 75%, reported at least one case of HST in 2009-2010.
  • 100 cases: Shelby, Madison, Lawrence, Davidson, Coffee, Franklin, Hamilton, Knox
  • 50 cases:  22 counties

Victims Services Offered:

  • 30% of survey respondents reported they were not aware of services in their geographical area.  Services include counseling, treatment, housing, and healthcare.


  • 79% of survey respondents stated they are not adequately trained to handle human sex trafficking.


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