January Is Human Trafficking Awareness Month

Monday, January 27, 2014 - by Rep. Eric Watson

People assume that a crime such as human trafficking does not occur in our country, let alone in Tennessee. However, it takes place at every border, in every country and in every community.  Just within the past two weeks, several arrests were made as a result of human trafficking.  It is unfortunate, but true, that here in the United States of America that people are being treated like slaves.  

Often, people are imprisoned in lives of misery.  Beaten, starved, and forced to work as prostitutes or to take demanding jobs as migrant, domestic, restaurant, or factory workers with little or no pay.  We have worked hard to stop human trafficking here in Tennessee, Watson remarked.  The personal and psychological results it takes on a person and on society, but also because it enables the illegal movement of immigrants across borders and provides a ready source of income for organized crime groups and even terrorists.

According to the TBI report on Human Trafficking, in November 2010, a multi-agency investigation that was uncovered by the TBI, lead to a federal indictment of 29 individuals who were affiliated with Somali gangs in the Middle District of Tennessee. They were arrested for trafficking girls as young as 12 across the U.S., including Tennessee. That same year a man in East Tennessee was arrested for trafficking over four hundred women. Victims from Cleveland and Chattanooga has also made numerous calls to the human trafficking hotline about this type of activity taking place in our community. 

In September of 2013, a Federal jury in Memphis, convicted a man of running a human trafficking ring. One of the victims was only 15 years old. Jurors in that case heard stories about the defendant kicking and beating his victim. U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton is to be commended for his efforts to bring such thugs to justice. Mr. Stanton has earned national attention for aggressively prosecuting sex traffickers. After the trial Stanton stated "The brutal and depraved acts that this individual inflicted upon these women are almost impossible to fathom." 

Because of passage of strong legislation in 2011, Tennessee’s laws regarding human trafficking were ranked second strongest in the nation by the “Polaris Project,” a leading national advocate against human trafficking. Now, we are joined with 21 other states that have passed significant laws and continue to take steps to improve and implement new laws.  

A few months ago, while in Washington D.C. I shared some of our recent legislative victories in Tennessee. We passed legislation that no longer treats victims of sex trafficking as criminals. In addition, we have provided a mechanism for developing a strategy to deliver services to them. I and my staff recently attended a strategy session hosted by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Human Services that brought together nonprofit organizations, law enforcement, state departments, and victims. Through our legislative actions, the group is tasked with assisting the Commissioner of DHS in developing a timeline to implement vital services to victims. It is our goal to use existing resources with the non-profit organizations throughout the state to provide necessary services to the victims. 

President Obama signed a new federal law called the Child Protection Act of 2012, which enhances federal, state, and local efforts to fight child pornography, sexual predators, and human trafficking. While people are starting to accept this reality, there haven’t been as many convictions. About one in five cases result in a prosecution. We have found that the problem lies at the local level because local law enforcement and prosecutors lack the necessary training to distinguish differences between a human trafficking victim and prostitution or kidnapping victim.  

Our legislation delegated the appropriated money to the TBI to develop a training course for our law enforcement to help prosecute the traffickers. Casual observers can see the evidence of human trafficking as we travel Tennessee’s roadways and It will take cooperation from law enforcement and prosecutors from all levels of government to effectively fight this battle. Other states should follow our lead in our willingness to stand up for the innocent victims from this atrocious crime. I stand ready to take each and every step necessary to insure that Tennessee remains a leader in the fight against human sex trafficking.

Rep. Eric Watson



How Will Community Policing Be Implemented This Time?

Chattanooga, like the rest of the nation, has always had community policing in some form or on some level.  The question is, how will it be used, this time?   In recent time, as it's historically, community policing has been used to segregate by race, class, create chaos, divide communities. Pit neighbor against neighbor. But rarely has it been used to unite and bring ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Third Son Takes His Life

Steven Ferrin, described by his parents as “a handsome, bubbly and witty young man,” was the victim of what is called “a sectarian attack” in recent weeks near his home in north Belfast (Ireland) and last weekend was found dead after the 31-year-old father of a 7-year-old girl had taken his own life. Compounding the tragedy is the horrific news that Steven’s other two brothers and ... (click for more)

Prosecutor Asks Jury To Find Morse Guilty In Massacre At Lookout Valley RV Park

Prosecutor Cameron Williams on Tuesday asked a Criminal Court jury to find Derek Morse guilty of three counts of first-degree murder as well as attempted first-degree murder in a massacre at a Lookout Valley RV Park on April 9, 2014. Morse, who was 19 at the time, is standing trial in the courtroom of Judge Barry Steelman. Skyler Allen, who was 22 when the shots rang out, ... (click for more)

Defense Will Not Get Federal Witness In Trial Of Truck Driver Charged In Wreck That Killed 6 People

The federal government is resisting sending a lab technician from Oklahoma to Chattanooga for next week's trial of Benjamin Brewer, who is charged in the wreck at Ooltewah that claimed six lives. Mike Little of the public defender's office said the defense should be entitled to have a live witness, but he also said he did not want the trial delayed again. A jury was selected ... (click for more)

Impressive Signal Mountain Whips Red Bank, 3-0

The Signal Mountain Lady Eagles have one of the better volleyball teams in town this fall and it’s no surprise that they are unbeaten in district play. They proved just how good they are Tuesday evening in Red Bank’s Susan Ingram Thurman Gymnasium as they needed about 50 minutes to beat the Lionettes for the second time this season. Set scores were 25-6, 25-7 and 25-15. ... (click for more)

East Hamilton Holds Off Sale Creek For 3-2 Volleyball Win

East Hamilton blew a 2-0 lead, but rebounded in the fifth set Tuesday to beat gutsy Sale Creek 3-2 in high school volleyball action at East Hamilton. “We knew they were a good team, probably the best team we’ve played this season, but I think we gave up after the second game,” East Hamilton’s Jordyn Griffith said. “I think we knew we had it in the bag because we’re a good ... (click for more)