By Margie Quin, CEO
The big news of the week is the human sex trafficking indictment of billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein out of the United States Attorney’s office in New York City. That was billionaire – with a big B. As rumor and innuendo abound, it’s more important than ever to wait until all the facts come out…and we hope they ALL come out. In the interim, what does his indictment signify for the human trafficking initiative, for Tennessee, and for survivors?
It seems clear that Epstein fits into the buyer category, whether he was also a promoter, well, we will have to wait and see what the evidence proves. When men buy juveniles for sex, we call that demand. The laws of supply and demand are what drive business. Demand creates a supply, ergo, the demand for young girls to have sex with creates the supply. Men like the accused Epstein, who purchase juveniles for sexual purposes, create a demand for product. In this case, the product are young girls.
In the state of Tennessee, buyers of juveniles for sexual purposes can be charged under the Trafficking statute. The Tennessee Code Annotated 39-13-309 states:
39-13-309. Trafficking for sexual servitude.
(a) A person commits the offense of trafficking a person for a commercial sex act who:
(2) Recruits, entices, harbors, transports, provides, purchases, or obtains by any other means, another person for the purpose of providing a commercial sex act.
When Tennessee’s trafficking statute was originally enacted in 2007, it did not contain the word “purchases” in (a) (2). We (I was with TBI at the time) asked for that word to be inserted so that it was very clear that buyers of children would be treated as traffickers – after all, demand drives this crime. It is worth noting that Appellate courts have affirmed that “obtains” also applies to the buyer, and that when a person knows they are purchasing a juvenile for sex, they are committing a trafficking offense. That’s the law.
(6) Facilitating or controlling a person's access to a controlled substance - number 6 of the law is also worth a quick mention here – if drug addiction is used as a means of control for the purposes of commercial sex, that is trafficking – that is why drug addicted persons are so vulnerable to traffickers. It is the weaponization of drug addiction. Scary stuff. Last year, over 60% of the human trafficking survivors End Slavery Tennessee served were opioid addicted.
To read the Tennessee Code, click here.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR SURVIVORS?
From my reading of this case over the past year, it seems clear that the courage of young survivors has resulted in an indictment of Epstein. The justice department found that prosecutors in the southern district of Florida violated policy and law when they kept plea arrangements with Epstein from his juvenile victims. Imagine if you were a young girl, with no means, abused and raped by a billionaire? I am sure he was considered untouchable, “ungettable”, possibly protected by governments and powerful people. Do you imagine if you were one of those young girls that you would have the courage to speak up, to keep speaking up?
This case may have the ability to silence the disbelievers and convince the naysayers. The sex trafficking of young girls happens everyday in our country - right here in your own backyard, and demand drives it all. (If you doubt it, check out the results of the TBI’s efforts since 2015 to document the prevalence of demand in this state.)
End Slavery Tennessee took referrals of five new juvenile sex trafficking survivors in June 2019 alone. Those referrals came from law enforcement and other nonprofits and emphasize that demand has not diminished. At best, it remains constant. High profile cases like Epstein provide an opportunity to open a dialogue about this crime. We can use cases like this to educate, raise awareness, and in the best-case scenario, modify behavior. If traffickers and buyers believe that the risk of arrest and exposure is high, it might make them think twice before buying a kid. That’s a win.
As much as we know right now about the Epstein case, there is much more that we don’t and maybe we won’t. The facts of this case will continue to unfold, but the early takeaways are these:
1. Demand drives the crime of human trafficking;
2. Nobody is too big to fall – not even a billionaire;
3. It will be the courage of survivors that eradicate this crime from our city, our state and this nation.
There is work to be done, it’s time to go to work on behalf of survivors – we do that every day at End Slavery Tennessee. No survivor should stand alone. If you want to get involved, click here.