A three-day operation by Special Agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and partner agencies to combat human trafficking in Memphis has resulted in the arrest of 42 individuals on prostitution-related charges: 38 men and four women. Eight men responding to the ads tried to buy sex from a minor. The Memphis anti-trafficking operation, called “Operation Someone Like Me”, is the eighth of its kind in the state between the TBI and partner agencies to help identify, investigate, and prosecute trafficking, and recover victims. Those arrested include a medical professional, engineers, a law student, a tow truck driver, and construction workers.
During the three-day operation, undercover Agents posted four ads a day on Backpage.com, for about 7 hours a day. Approximately 475 different men responded to those ads posted. More than 8,779 contacts were made to those ads, through texts or phone calls. In some ads, undercover Agents posed as a juvenile girl. Eight men responded, and paid to have sex with an underage female. Two of those specifically paid money to have sex with 14-year-old girls. Two juvenile female victims of trafficking were recovered and referred to the Department of Children’s Services.
Along with detectives with the Memphis Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations, FBI, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, prosecutors with the Shelby County District Attorney’s office and the nonprofits Restore Corps and End Slavery Tennessee, TBI Special Agents and intelligence analysts conducted the undercover operation to identify potential victims of trafficking and arrest those seeking to purchase illicit sex from a juvenile.
“We have said all along that this is a demand-driven crime, and this operation demonstrates how very prevalent that demand is,” says TBI Director Mark Gwyn.
“Let me speak directly to men: The women you see advertised online are people, not products. We need men to step up and demand better from themselves and the men around them.”
“Operations like ‘Operation Someone Like Me’ are necessary to protect the innocence of youth within our community. It is sickening to know that there are individuals who prey on our girls and women,” said Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings. “Parents and family members, be aware and know where your children are and what they are doing at all times.”
In 2015, Governor Bill Haslam signed legislation into law giving TBI original jurisdiction over investigations of human trafficking. Additionally, the General Assembly approved funding for four Special Agents, who work exclusively to investigate human trafficking cases and train law enforcement statewide on recognizing and combating this type of crime. These four Special Agents, who have now completed their eighth operation across the state, have arrested or cited more than 200 individuals during that time.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey spent time Thursday in the Memphis operation. “We’re committed – as a state – to doing everything we can to figure it out, arrest traffickers, and rescue victims,” Kelsey says. “We’re leading the nation in our approach and our work is just getting started.”
Assistant Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees HSI’s efforts in Tennessee says, “ICE/HSI is proud to once again partner with TBI for Operation Someone Like Me. HSI is committed to this unified and multi-faceted approach to combating human trafficking across Tennessee. We will continue to contribute our unique authorities to go after those looking to exploit these women as well as offer our services to the victims of this form of modern day slavery.”
With the assistance of the nonprofit agencies Restore Corps and End Slavery Tennessee, the women identified as potential victims of trafficking were each offered services, including housing, counseling and addiction treatment.
You can see the names of those arrested as part of this operaton on the TBI Newsroom: https://tbinewsroom.com/2017/01/27/42-arrested-in-memphis-human-trafficking-operation/.