By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law

Human sex trafficking is the most common form of modern day slavery.  It is an organized and violent business.  According to the FBI’s website, “women and young girls are sold to traffickers, locked up in rooms or brothels for weeks or months, drugged, terrorized, and raped repeatedly.”  Victims are so afraid and intimidated that they rarely speak out against their captors.  Traffickers represent every social, ethnic, and racial group.  They are not only men.  Women run some established rings.  “Traffickers who have more than one victim often have a ‘bottom’ who sits atop the hierarchy of prostitutes.  The bottom, a victim herself, has been with the trafficker the longest and has earned his trust.  Bottoms collect the money from the other girls, discipline them, seduce unwitting youths into trafficking, and handle the day to day business for the trafficker.”

Locally, the TBI’s 2011 human sex trafficking survey reported over 100 cases of sex trafficking in Knox County.   54% of those survey respondents from Knox County law enforcement and social services indicated that they knew of cases of minor sex trafficking.  Captain Allen “Wolfie” May with the Knox County Sheriff’s Department’s Vice Unit reports that his unit works with the district attorney’s office to keep up to date on the new sex trafficking statutes and that they intend to prosecute the offenders to the fullest extent of the law.  Unopposed candidate for Knox County District Attorney Charme Knight, has extensive experience in prosecuting both sexual offenses and child abuse cases.  She will continue to fight child abuse and sex trafficking when elected.  In addition, this month the Knox County Sheriff’s Training Facility will be the site of a three-day TBI training program for law enforcement on child sex trafficking.  More training improves awareness and awareness increases effective enforcement.

The victims of human sex trafficking need help from all of us.  Identifying these victims is crucial to stopping the perpetrators.  Red flags to look for include poor mental health or abnormal behavior.  Does this person avoid eye contact?  Is he or she fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, nervous or paranoid?  Poor physical health is another sign.  Does this person lack health care?  Appear malnourished?  Show signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement or torture?  Does he or she have few personal possessions?  Have no control of his or her own money?  Have no financial records or bank account?  Have no control over his or her identification documents?  Does he or she owe a large debt and is unable to pay it?  Is he or she not allowed or able to speak for themselves?  Does he or she claim to be just visiting?  Is this person unable to clarify where he or she is staying?  Not know what city he or she is in?  Does he or she have a loss of sense of time? Is he or she not free to leave or come and go as he or she wishes?  Is her or she in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp or manager?  Is he or she under 18 and providing commercial sex acts?

Pay attention to what is happening in your community.  An unusual situation you have encountered may have actually been human trafficking.  If you suspect you have come into contact with a victim of human trafficking contact the Tennessee Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-855-55-TNHTH (1-855-55-86484) or the Tennessee Dept. of Children’s Services if the victim is under 18 at 1-877-237-0004.   If the victim is in some immediate danger, contact 911.


Sharon Frankenberg is an experienced attorney licensed in Tennessee since 1988. Her office number in Knoxville is (865)539-2100.