published Saturday, December 1st, 2012

Tennessee Rep. Watson attends sex trafficking conference

Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland
Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — State Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, will be in Washington, D.C., Thursday for a conference hosted by Vice President Joe Biden's office on the "epidemic" of human sex trafficking across the country.

Watson, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, joined more than two dozen officials from other states to discuss how they are cracking down on such criminal activity.

He spoke about challenges facing Tennessee as well as how state and local law enforcement agencies have worked together to prevent such trafficking, Watson said in a news release.

"Tennessee, in many ways, is a hot spot for this particularly disturbing form of illegal activity -- we've got to put a stop to that," Watson said. "I'm hopeful this meeting at the White House will serve as a jumping-off point for increased cooperation between all levels of law enforcement so we can do just that."

Hamilton County is among eight counties statewide that reported more than 100 minor cases of human sex trafficking over a 24-month period, according to a 2011 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report. The survey defines human trafficking as "a for-profit sex act that is induced by force, fraud or coercion or in which the person performing such an act is under the age of 18 years."

Tennessee lawmakers this year passed several laws aimed at attacking traffickers' exploitation of immigrants, underage youth and others.

"I feel like we are making some real progress, but more has to be done," said Watson.

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