Working 4 You: Signs to look for when it comes to human trafficking

After a human trafficking bust last week, News4 is letting people know what signs to look for when it comes to human trafficking.
Published: Apr. 4, 2022 at 6:21 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - After a human trafficking bust last week, News4 is letting people know what signs to look for when it comes to human trafficking.

Metro Nashville Police Department said a months-long investigation led to last week’s human trafficking bust, but they know there are even more instances going on in the Midstate.

Metro Police’s Human Trafficking unit investigated around 86 cases last year, and some cases are still under investigation. Police said no matter the type of trafficking, it involved the use of force, fraud or coercion to pressure a person into it.

When it comes to human trafficking, police said no potential victim is off limits.

“The youngest victim I’ve ever got was 12, and it goes up in age,” Sgt. Matthew Dixon with Metro Police’s Human Trafficking unit said.

Lt. Rachael Reese said when it comes to trafficking, it’s about vulnerability.

“I think it’s important that we understand that traffickers prey on the most vulnerable populations, so that includes children, the homeless community, women and men that just haven’t found their way in life,” Reese said. “I think it’s important to note those are the population of people that they’re most going after because they can offer them something. Those people might need money, or the trafficker can buy them nice clothes or nails, and they fall in love with this person, and think they can offer them this great life when in actuality they are grooming them into a life of trafficking.”

Metro Police said there are two kinds of trafficking: labor and sex trafficking. Most sex trafficking happens at hotels.

“We spend a lot of our time in hotels. What we look for in hotels are tags, maybe Tennessee tags, local tags like Davidson County, in a hotel,” Dixon said. “Why would someone local be staying at a hotel in Nashville?”

But the approach by traffickers isn’t always in person.

“People will go to dating apps. Guys get on website and get girls to fall in love with them online and then lure them into the business with the promise of something – a better life, more money,” Dixon said.

But those promises are empty and investigators said it can lead beyond forced labor or sex work.

“There’s many crimes associated with trafficking. We’ve had an influx of a girl setting up deals and having a ‘john’ coming to the location and then setting up a robbery,” Dixon said. “They’ll steal your identity as well. If they’re not making money having sex, they’ll find another way to support their habits.”

Metro Police officers want to break the cycle and are hoping everyone will do their part to watch for signs that something may be wrong. For example, a young person with excess cash or multiple cell phones.

“Some of the signs you can look for are a female who isn’t dressed appropriately for the weather or for her age. Some other things to look for, a lot of victims don’t have any control over their identity documents, such as their passports or driver’s license. If they are trying to check into a hotel, often times they won’t have those documents,” Reese said. “For younger kids, if they appear to be afraid or have signs or bruising, or they won’t make eye contact with you, that’s something to look for.”

Dixon said there is a human trafficking statute, but traffickers can face several charges.

“Because human trafficking even though it only includes sex trafficking and labor trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping, child sex abuse, adult sex abuse. They can be charged with a multitude of offense,” Dixon said.

Metro Police said they work with several nonprofits including End Slavery Tennessee and Thistle Farms. The police department said it started the community initiative “Not For Sale Nashville” that has information on what to look for and where to get help.

“I can’t give you exact description of what human trafficking looks like, but if you suspect something, please call the Tennessee Human Trafficking Hotline,” Dixon said.

Contact the Tennessee Human Trafficking Hotline at 855-55-TNHTH or 855-558-6484.

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