Human Trafficking in Nashville

According to Detective Matt Dixon, traffickers in Nashville use many ploys. For example, they will pass out business cards on construction sites advertising innocuous goods and services like tamales or house cleaning. But when men call the number on the card, they are told “Well, we don’t have any tamales today. But we do have some nice young girls.” Sex slaves.

Actual cards confiscated by metro-Nashville police

Truck stops are popular spots for trafficking where prostituted children are derogatorily called “lot lizards” and sent from truck to truck to service men.

More and more, trafficking happens in surrounding rural and suburban areas and small towns.  This increasingly computer based business doesn’t need a shop with a sign out front. All traffickers have to do is put an ad on-line, and they are in business. Ordinary homes in residential neighborhoods are used because there are fewer law enforcement resources in these areas and officers are less likely to be trained in human trafficking. Neighbors are not likely to notice what is going on or, if they do, to correctly interpret the suspicious signs. It’s just not on our mental grids to think “Oh, those might be slaves next door” or “That might be a slave owner down the street.

Wide-spread lack of information leads to low levels of victim identification, even by those who come in contact with them. Yet lives can be saved by observant neighbors. I read just this week of a child held in bondage who was rescued because a neighbor noticed her working at chores from early in the morning until late at night, with no evidence of schooling. Girls held in another home were freed after a neighbor noticed mini-vans with groups of men coming to the home on a regular basis. Educating ourselves to the red flags for trafficking is an important first step for all of us. See  for this list.

Nashville has all the criteria to be a trafficking hub. We’re at the intersection of three interstates. We have numerous conventions, lots of tourists and thriving businesses coming to town, as well as a large immigrant population. (Immigrants are very vulnerable to trafficking.)

To see details of a few local cases, see

COMING NEXT: Vulnerable populations