Our thanks to Heather Ebert for putting these true stories into words
Sex trafficking isn’t something that only happens in developing countries. This horrible crime occurs right here in Tennessee—across counties, in our own neighborhoods.
To deny that sex trafficking happens in our own backyards is to avert our eyes and hearts from seeing and helping the young people who need us most.
The following stories reflect human trafficking in our communities, including actual cases in which End Slavery Tennessee has been involved. Each account aims to illuminate the problem, and how your support can help us end slavery in our state.
Names of perpetrators and crime locations are real, but victims’ names have been changed to protect their identities.
When Women Traffick Women
Two young women tricked into sex slavery by a ‘friend’
A sad fact of sex trafficking is the prevalence of female recruiters. Women who traffick other women, often called “girlfriending,” were usually exploited themselves. Taking on the role of perpetrator gives them more freedom and control. These recruiters befriend young women and then turn them over to traffickers, or sell the girls themselves.
Tanya and Yvonne are two young women from Atlanta who trusted Ashley Harry, a female recruiter who put them in the hands of a brutal trafficker. The trafficker, Prontiss Houseworth, took them to the Knight’s Inn on Spring Street in Nashville and forced them into sex with a parade of men.
Acting on a Backpage ad, police freed the traumatized girls, and they returned to their Atlanta homes.
Their testimony, however, was crucial for prosecuting the perpetrators. End Slavery Tennessee arranged safe transport back to Nashville, and fed and safely housed these courageous girls before their court date. We sat with them through pre-trial preparations and provided a friendly face in court before driving them back to Atlanta. End Slavery Tennessee has continued to support the girls as the trial unfolds.
Without End Slavery Tennessee’s assistance, a violent trafficker might have gone free.Through their testimonies, Tanya and Yvonne have made an important step toward emotional recovery.
Harry and Houseworth pled guilty to the crime.
You can find details on the incident here.
When Mary, a foreign national living in Atlanta, enrolled in an ESL class held at a local church, she hoped to better her English and perhaps make new friends.
A woman Mary befriended in class introduced her to two men who had anything but friendly intentions. The men, Arturo Perez and Jesus Garcia, followed Mary home where she lived with her sister. They came back when Mary was alone and ordered her to pack her bags. If she didn’t leave with them, they said, “We’ll kill your sister.”
Terrified, Mary acquiesced and was soon trapped in sex slavery. The men shuttled her through Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, selling her seven or eight times a night for three years—pocketing all the money from the exchanges. Perez and Garcia kept Mary compliant through beatings and threats against her family—even stabbing her in the side with an ice pick.
Mary was eventually sold in Nashville, where vice squad detectives rescued her during a prostitution sting. Police recognized the signs of trafficking, and charged the men under the sexual servitude statute.
The perpetrators received a six-month sentence followed by deportation. Tennessee’s sex trafficking law, which had only recently gone into effect at the time of the case, now carries an eight- to 12-year sentence.
A Victim Finds Her Voice
Exploited from a young age, Anna now fights for others’ freedom
Anna grew up in a drug-riddled family and was sold for sex by the time she was 6.
When Anna was an adolescent, her family ordered her to begin paying $900 in rent, or leave home. A few girlfriends offered her a place to stay—but they turned out to be recruiters who introduced her to a pimp. Anna was trafficked for years afterward and wasn’t freed until she was an adult.
Federal law enforcement protected Anna until she could testify against a crime ring that had been trafficking her. End Slavery Tennessee helped her establish and furnish her new home, and even gave Anna her first ever Christmas gift.
Through proper care and guidance, she attended a university here in Tennessee and now interns with an anti-trafficking organization in another state. Anna shared her story to major national news outlets including the New York Times, spreading awareness of domestic trafficking to a wide audience.
Anna’s early testimony was key to putting her traffickers in prison, and her later testimony is now helping to set other victims free.
Brutalized by Gorilla Pimps
Unimaginable violence used to control girls and women
A “gorilla pimp” is a particularly violent kind of pimp who controls through physical brutality. These egregious types act like royal figures in their prostitution organizations, using pure violence—rape, beatings, group initiations, murder—to control women, instill fear and keep them silent.
Violent pimps will often include a measure of loving behavior in between beatings and threats. These intermittent niceties are part of the torture process and the psychology of control.
Fifteen-year-old Lana was abducted by such brutal traffickers and traded for months between pimps across several state lines. When she was first rescued, she’d been beaten so badly that a neurologist had to assess her condition.
Since her rescue, Lana and her father are living in a new town where the traffickers cannot find her. End Slavery Tennessee supplied furniture, utilities, food and rent to support the family until her father’s first paycheck arrived. The organization has also provided tutoring, school supplies, clothing and older female mentors for Lana. This family has begun what will be a very long road to emotional healing.
20% of trafficking victims are male
One local 17-year-old victim was first sexually abused when he was in the 7th grade, and has not been in school since. End Slavery Tennessee assists this population, despite that few resources are yet available to help these young men.
Prostitution doesn’t just happen in big cities. In Robertson County just north of Nashville, Teresa West, her husband and two grown children were arrested for trafficking high school students from their community.
Investigators intercepted a 16-year-old victim in a Murfreesboro motel room that had been secured by Teresa West. The victim informed authorities she’d been sold to more than 20 men over the summer, giving a significant percentage of the earnings to the West family.
This case is a shocking reminder that human trafficking is often homegrown. The mother is now serving a 15-year prison sentence.
For more details, read the account on the Case Map page
A Father-Son Trafficking Team
One young woman narrowly escapes sexual slavery
Nashville is a destination for many who seek the city’s myriad opportunities. One young traveler arrived at a local bus station from a nearby town and struck up a conversation with a young man who seemed kind and friendly.
When she admitted she needed a job, he said, “I have a friend who could help.”
The 20-year-old was then taken to a Red Roof Inn off I-65 in Nashville. The young woman soon learned that the “job” was actually an escort service run by father-son traffickers Timothy and Charles Lee. Locked in one of the rooms, she managed to get the attention of a hotel staff member, who called police.
Two other women were also part of the duo’s scheme. One cried to a responding officer on the scene that she hadn’t been home in five years, and she “just wanted to go home to her mother.”
You can read more about this case here.
Tennessee Couple Arrested in Illinois
Couple abducted a young teen after connecting on Facebook
It’s every parent’s nightmare—one of their children targeted by a sexual predator. That’s what happened to a young Tennessee teen after a perpetrator befriended her on Facebook.
A couple from Friendship, Tenn., Jarrod Sanford, 31, and Jessica Lidy, 22, were arrested in Lincoln, Ill., after abducting a 14-year-old Tennessee girl with the intent of involving her in prostitution. During a stop for gas, the girl alerted restaurant employees that she was being held against her will.
She was promptly rescued by police and is now safe with her family.
Online predators use common schemes, like posting a fake profile on Facebook or another popular social media site. These traffickers look for vulnerabilities in teens—such as a lack of parental involvement, confessed insecurities, a desire for nice things, and provocative dress—then comment frequently on posts and statuses.
After developing an online relationship, the teen then “falls in love” with the fake persona and agrees to meet. The person the teen encounters won’t, of course, be the person he or she was expecting.
You can read more about the Logan County case here.
Training Turns Participants Into Activists
An empowered community makes prevention and rescue possible
When local citizens know the indicators of sex trafficking, they can become vigilant in watching for and reporting on any suspicious activity in the community. End Slavery Tennessee conducts professional presentations, group training sessions, and neighborhood door-hanger campaigns to educate and empower local residents in the fight against modern-day slavery.
*** After a recent training session, End Slavery Tennessee received a call from the leader of a volunteer organization working in a low-income neighborhood. Members of the group were spending time with residents in the area when they discovered a suspicious situation.
At one apartment home, the girls inside—ranging in ages from 12 to adult—were not allowed to come out for days at a time. The volunteers noticed a number of red flags, including a dominating man hovering inside who could control the girls with just a look.
The group leader contacted End Slavery Tennessee with their detailed and credible observations. A report was written up to law enforcement and an investigation is now underway. ***
***After a training session at a medical clinic, a staff member called End Slavery Tennessee because a patient turned out to be a victim of trafficking. The staff member recognized the signs for the first time in a frightened girl who had been beaten and wanted out. Clinic professionals asked us to come talk with the victim about her options. She needed reassurance that she could be protected and that she’d have a support system to walk her through the next steps. ***
***During the Q&A portion of a community group training in one Middle Tennessee suburb, a pastor addressed the group with tears streaming down his face. One of his young congregants had been missing for over a year, having fallen prey to traffickers. Had he known the signs, he said, he might have been able to help her.***