Buyer Beware - When is Surprise Just Willful Blindness?

By Margie Quin, CEO

I wrote a blog piece when the Epstein crimes were in the news, to shine a light on “Demand” in our society. The message was, no one is too “big” to fall. Last week, the T.B.I. got busy again in Middle Tennessee, this time in sleepy, but growing Rutherford County. Thirty-four miles southeast of Nashville, 16 men showed up to a location in the County to pay to have sex with a kid. In two days. Sixteen men. How many would they have caught in three days, four? When would it have slowed down?

So many are surprised when men in our communities are revealed to be buyers of sex, especially when they are buying kids! At End Slavery Tennessee we deliver restorative care to survivors of human trafficking. The youngest victim in service this year has been just 9-years old; the second youngest, 12. Both of their traffickers were arrested in Middle Tennessee this summer. There is a demand for children to have sex with – we have to get past being “surprised” when men are arrested for this crime. The TBI has arrested over a hundred men for buying women and children for sex. At this point, is it surprise - or willful blindness?

As with many issues, we stay insulated in our lives, thinking terrible things happen to other people, other families. The most current research (Mansson, 2004) suggests that 16% of men buy sex in the United States.  My experience leads me to believe that number is low. Of the twelve undercover sting operations I ran for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, there were literally thousands of men who responded to ads depicting a woman for sale for sex. The physical and psychological trauma inflicted on the victims of this crime is catastrophic. Healing requires time and specific evidence-based sex trafficking expertise. End Slavery Tennessee gives survivors of trafficking the time and space to heal with a strong trauma-informed program led by specially-trained staff.

When a man knowingly buys a person under the age of 18 for a sex act, that is human sex trafficking. Tennessee charges buyers under the sex trafficking statute – buyers are the drivers of this crime, and they are charged accordingly.

The men arrested were different races, ages, occupations and backgrounds. The data bears this out – it’s any “type” of man. The men I have interviewed have given different “reasons” for buying sex, but in the end, they all knew what they were doing was wrong, against the law. Of course, they all rationalize the behavior, dismiss the idea that the woman or child is being harmed irreparably or just don’t care. At End Slavery Tennessee, we see the incredible hurt and despair that act causes.

If we can’t stem the tide of “Demand”, we will never halt the flood of victims.

End Slavery Tennessee has seen a record number of victim referrals in Middle Tennessee in 2019 – 275 so far this year. We served 225 in all of 2018. The relative ease with which the TBI arrested 16 men in two days tells us that End Slavery Tennessee won’t go out of business anytime soon. As long as there are dozens of men seeking to buy sex from kids on any given day, the referrals will continue to climb. What can you do about it? I suggest you learn the signs and signals of a human trafficking victim, and then share and retweet the information to your friends and family.

And above all – don’t be surprised when the TBI announces – again – that they arrested another dozen plus men for paying to have sex with a kid.