As sex trafficking is becoming more prevalent across the country, surrounding counties are being affected.
In the United States, the most common form of sex trafficking is through the use of semi-trucks. For this reason, counties along interstates and highways with rest stops are the most prominent locations sex trafficking occurs, law enforcement officials say.
Nashville is connected to three different interstates, has a sizeable population and a bustling tourism industry, helping to aid human trafficking.
As a whole, the thought of youth being trafficked for sex seems a problem would occur in foreign countries or enormous cities, such as Los Angeles or New York. But the Nashville area has been impacted.
End Slavery Tennessee reports that, on average, 94 minors are trafficked within the state of Tennessee each month. Further, the average age an individual enters sex trafficking in Tennessee is just 13 years old.
Freeforlifeintl.org indicates the majority of trafficked individuals are U.S. citizens.
“We hear so much about sex trafficking, but we have not had that experience here necessarily. I’m not saying it’s not here, but we haven’t really seen it like Manchester has. I think it’s because of Manchester’s location off the interstate,” said 31st District Attorney General Lisa Zavogiannis.
Manchester is one of the smaller cities which runs along an interstate and has a semi-truck rest stop, causing the city to have previous incidents of sex trafficking occur. The 14th Judicial District Attorney General Craig Northcott remembers a case in Coffee County approximately a year ago involving sex trafficking at a truck stop.
A husband and wife, Christopher Blake Hill, 35, and Kasity Dawn Fults-Hill, 28, were charged in February 2015 with several felony charges due to being involved in the sexual trafficking of a 17-year-old minor.
The indictment states Christopher Hill was charged with three counts of sex trafficking commercial sex act, and Kasity Fults-Hill was charged with two counts of sex trafficking commercial sex act. The two pled guilty in December 2018 to unlawfully and knowingly trafficking a person, said person being a minor, by recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing purchasing, or obtaining by any other means, another person for the purpose of providing a commercial sex act.
Both subjects were sentenced to eight years on supervised probation with Christopher Hill being credited with 1,207 days served in jail, and Kasity Fults-Hill receiving credit for 161 days served.
“There was an issue at one of the rest areas here in Coffee County some years ago that was a target of concern and investigation. No recent increase or ongoing activity in particular is in that rest area this year,” Northcott says. “Interstates and human trafficking go together. Victims are trafficked along interstates so you can assume that will be going on. It’s been a focus with the Highway Patrol and the Sheriff’s Department on dealing with that issue. We have not had many prosecutions related directly to sex trafficking besides maybe one a year.”
According to Northcott, the couple was caught through tips from other governmental agencies. The two were charged with various sex trafficking crimes in both Coffee and Montgomery counties. With Montgomery County containing the bulk of the charges, those authorities took the lead in the investigation.
“Proving specifics in any case, especially in those involving sex trafficking, can be difficult. There are many ways to fight that, but the issue of the crime and abuse the victims have suffered has an impact on their ability and willingness to see the criminal justice process through,” Northcott adds. “It all creates challenges in a case. Every case is different. Sometimes there’s strong proof, but other times we have to compromise due to the individual circumstances involving that case.”
With the sobering statistics involving sex trafficking throughout the state, the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration recently released a public service announcement stating the Office of Criminal Justice Programs is working with state agencies to help combat human trafficking in Tennessee through education, beginning with the 2019-2020 school year.
“According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, human trafficking is the second-fastest growing criminal industry, just behind drug trafficking,” says director Jennifer Brinkman. “A new law signed by Gov. Bill Lee in April requires that public schools include information about human trafficking involving children – and requires teachers to receive special instruction.”