by Tony Gonzalez
Just a few years ago, Tennessee was scrambling to combat sex trafficking. Now it’s a leading state in the fight.
There have been 36 new laws in the past four years, including several measures that take effect July 1.
The new laws include money for more special agents assigned to investigate sex traffickers for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. And for the first time, TBI will have the power to conduct electronic wiretapping.
Until now, that kind of surveillance has only been allowed for the most serious murders, drug dealing, and gang crimes. The TBI’s Margie Quin, an assistant special agent in charge, says it’s a tool that agents need.
“Much of the evidence can be found across the Internet and through electronic means,” Quin says. “With the advent of websites that are strictly geared toward selling women and children for sex, being able to combat that through electronic authority will be, I think, very beneficial.”
In the past four years, Tennessee has increased jail time for sex traffickers, given new protections to victims, and even gone after gangs that deal in trafficking.
“We went from being sort of a middle to lower-tier state — with regard to the laws we have on the books to protect kids from things like commercial sexual exploitation — to No. 1 in the nation,” Quin said.
Also this spring, Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk created a new human trafficking unit within his office. Paired with the TBI, the task force is pursuing federal funding to pursue more cases.
Also starting today, victims who were children will now have a longer timeframe to come forward against their abusers — as long as 25 years once they become adults. Senator Bill Ketron, of Murfreesboro, supported the change.
“Often times, minors don’t even realize that they have become a victim of the crime until well after they turn the age of 18,” Ketron told lawmakers on the Senate floor.
Some national groups now rank Tennessee’s trafficking penalties among the toughest anywhere. They say that with this crackdown, the next challenge will be how to help the growing number of victims who are coming out of trafficking.