Frequently Asked Questions

What is human trafficking?

Simply put, human trafficking is modern-day slavery.

Tennessee’s laws define human trafficking as the sale of an adult for the purposes of commercial sex by means of force, fraud, or coercion. Any commercial sex act involving the sale of a child for the purposes of commercial sex is considered human trafficking. The most serious human trafficking offenses in Tennessee qualify as A felonies, bringing with them the toughest prison sentences possible.


Does it really happen here, in Tennessee?

Every single day.

In the darkest places online, people are scouring for illicit sex. They don’t know if the woman — or the girl — advertised is being forced to do so, and frankly, they don’t care.

In some cases, human trafficking can also look like a parent who can’t make rent and sends her teenager to the landlord to ‘take care of it.’

The TBI has commissioned two landmark studies to delve into the issue of human trafficking in an effort to understand what it looks like, how often it occurs, and the best ways to end it.


Isn’t human trafficking the same thing as prostitution?

No. While there are connections between prostitution and human trafficking, the two terms are not necessarily the same.

Sometimes, a prostitute is being forced to participate in commercial sex acts. Sometimes, they’re under the age of 18. And in both cases, the law in Tennessee would consider them victims of human trafficking.

Is every person advertised online a “victim” of human trafficking?

Not necessarily, but a buyer doesn’t really know — and often doesn’t care — whether the person being advertised is under the age of 18 or being controlled by a trafficker. And, in a way, that’s the point.

This can’t happen to anyone I know. Aren’t all of these ‘victims’ really the same?

While there are similarities among many victims — including drug addiction and a history of sexual abuse — other victims have little or no past experiences with either. They may simply fall victim to a trafficker who lures them into a lifestyle through other means.


Can men and boys be victims of human trafficking?

Absolutely. Human trafficking impacts all people, regardless of gender, race, and sexual orientation. If there’s a demand, sadly, there’s a supply.

Who’s buying these ‘dates’?

Those buying illicit sex come from any and all backgrounds.

In 2015, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation launched an extensive operation to address human trafficking, known as “Operation Someone Like Me.” To date, the operation has led to the arrests of several hundred men on a variety of prostitution and trafficking-related offenses.


How do we really end human trafficking?

The key to ending human trafficking is in ending demand. And that’ll take tough conversations and renewed commitments, primarily among men. Human trafficking is a supply-and-demand crime. If there were not a demand for women and young girls for illicit sex, there wouldn’t be a supply.

“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.” – TBI Director Mark Gwyn


How do I recognize someone who might need help out of this?

It might be their appearance or the way they’re behaving.

No two human trafficking victims are the same. But look closely. You may notice something that could potentially save a life.


Who else in our state is taking a stand against trafficking?

Plenty of people.

From lawmakers, to nonprofit leaders, to citizens in every corner of the state. Tennesseans are lining up in support of efforts to hold buyers accountable and help victims become survivors.


I think I know someone who’s trapped in this sort of thing. What should I do?

Contact us. Tennessee has a designated hotline to report — even anonymously — instances of human trafficking. You can call 1-855-55-TNHTH for more information, text ‘BeFree’ to 233733, or fill out our online form.

Have an additional question not answered here?
Feel free to reach out!