Rep. Eric Watson (R-Cleveland), who chaired the House Judiciary Committee in the 107th General Assembly,has been invited to the White House for a session on human trafficking.
He is part of a 25-person contingent meeting with officials. The event takes place on Thursday.
Rep. Watson said he has been a leading voice when it comes to equipping law enforcement with the resources needed to combat human trafficking. For his part in the White House, he "will detail the challenges facing Tennessee as well as how state and local law enforcement agencies have worked together to stop and prevent trafficking cases from occurring."
He said, "Study after study shows the United States is facing an epidemic of human trafficking. States like Tennessee, which serve as the intersection for numerous interstate highways and have multiple regional airports, are targeted by the perpetrators of the crime.
"Human trafficking, which is also referred to as modern day slavery, is defined in federal statutes as 'the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person to perform labor or a commercial sex act through force, fraud, or coercion.'
“Tennessee, in many ways, is a hotspot for this particularly disturbing form of illegal activity—we’ve got to put a stop to that. I’m hopeful this meeting at the White House will serve as a jumping off point for increased cooperation between all levels of law enforcement so we can do just that.”
He said a 2011 report on trafficking in Tennessee by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) found:
* Eighty-five percent of Tennessee counties stated that they have investigated at least one human sex trafficking case over the last 24 months.
* Seventy-two percent of the total counties in the state reported at least one case of minor human sex trafficking.
* There were 16 entities that reported an excess of 50 cases and eight reported over 100 cases of minor cases of human sex trafficking.
Rep. Watson said, "Since that report, the General Assembly passed tough new laws against human trafficking and the TBI has added a training segment on the subject for officers and agents.
“I feel like we are making some real progress, but more has to be done. We’re going to learn about the best practices that are being utilized around the nation at this conference and I intend to bring them back to Tennessee.”