NASVHILLE, Tenn. – Two bills sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week that build on the legislature’s ongoing efforts to attack the problem of child prostitution and human trafficking in Tennessee. Overbey joined former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Director Mark Gwyn, members of the Women’s Fund Alliance and others in a press conference on Thursday to promote the bills and help raise awareness for a victim’s hotline.
The Statewide Partnership of Tennessee Womens’ Fund Alliance has raised funds to publicize the 855-558-6484 hotline. The hotline provides a wide variety of resources to help women trapped in human trafficking.
“According to a 2011 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) study, human sex trafficking is a widespread problem in Tennessee, with 78 of the 95 counties reporting the crime has occurred within their boundaries over a two-year period,” said Senator Overbey. “The study also showed that sixty-two counties reported the presence of human sex trafficking of minor children, with Shelby, Davidson, Coffee, and Knox reporting more than 100 cases. We must address this growing crime.”
The state hotline was established under legislation co-sponsored by Overbey in 2011. However, Overbey, law enforcement authorities and the Womens’ Alliance believe more can be done to reach out to victims of this growing crime. Among other provisions, Senate Bill 447 , sponsored by Overbey, makes improvements to help promote better use of the hotline.
General Gonzales said “Victims are often hiding in plain sight but most don’t recognize it.” Gonzales, who served under President George W. Bush, said reducing human trafficking was a priority of the U.S. Justice Department under this administration.
Director Gwyn said the TBI has held workshops across the state to educate law enforcement officers in Tennessee to recognize the warning signs of human trafficking.
Special TBI Agent Margie Quin said gangs have added human trafficking to other illegal activities like selling drugs and guns. In order to address this, Overbey’s legislation enhances penalties for trafficking for commercial sex acts from a Class B felony to a Class A felony when the offense is gang-related. This adds 10.49 years in prison time if the offender is a criminal gang member or the offense constitutes a criminal gang offense.
“Human trafficking feeds on vulnerable victims, the young and impoverished. This bill will give law enforcement the tools they need to address it in a more comprehensive fashion. I look forward to working with advocates to ensure its passage,” Overbey concluded.