published Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Police document Chattanooga's first reported sex trafficking case

 A woman who was reportedly prostituted and later held against her will poses for a photograph. The picture is one of several that appear in an ad under an adult entertainment section of backpage.com.
A woman who was reportedly prostituted and later held against her will poses for a photograph. The picture is one of several that appear in an ad under an adult entertainment section of backpage.com.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING VS. PROSTITUTION

• Tennessee law states someone who maintains or forces another person into sexual servitude commits sexual trafficking.

• State law defines prostitution as engaging in or offering to engage in "sexual activity as a business or being an inmate in a house of prostitution or loitering in a public place for the purpose of being hired to engage in sexual activity."

• The TBI opened a sex trafficking hotline in October 2011 to provide resources for victims. As of Wednesday, 28 calls had been received. A majority were anonymous tips, said Kristin Helm, spokeswoman for the TBI. To reach the hotline, call 855-558-6484.

Source: Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, state law

Along Interstate 75, women travel with pimps offering sex to anyone who pays.

Their pictures are posted on websites such as Backpage.com under an adult escort services section. Some smile seductively at the camera.

They don't stay for long.

"Here for a limited time," reads one ad.

"Ebony Goddess Leaving Today," reads another.

It's likely that some women are kept against their will. It's a matter of chance if an opportunity allows them to escape.

On Friday, a 21-year-old Baltimore woman was able to borrow a cell phone to call police. She was prostituted out to johns lured online through Backpage's community websites. She was taken to Knoxville, Chattanooga and North Carolina, according to a Chattanooga police report.

It marked the first case of human sex trafficking in Hamilton County reported to police.

The case comes a year after the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released a survey showing more than 100 people were trafficking victims in Hamilton County. That information came through reports collected from social services organizations.

Local law enforcement never had a case reported, according to the results.

INSIDE THE CASE

Khari Matthew "King Black" Troutman faces charges of domestic assault, kidnapping and promoting prostitution, records show.

The woman told police she met Troutman at a Comfort Inn in Silver Springs, Md. She said she agreed to work for him as a prostitute. Troutman had promised to return her to Maryland by Thursday to visit her children in foster care, but he kept her against her will at a Microtel Hotel near Shallowford Road, she told police.

When the woman told Troutman she would leave and find a way back to Maryland without him, he reportedly beat her. Her face was marked with bruises, according to an incident report. She begged him to let her eat, and he walked her to a nearby Applebee's restaurant. She was able to go to the restroom and borrow someone's cell phone to call police, according to the arrest report.

When Troutman was questioned by police, he said he was in a romantic relationship with the woman. He said he and his friend "Killa" were sightseeing with the woman and two prostitutes. He said the woman chose to prostitute herself on her own time.

The ads on the Backpage website, which features a section for adult entertainment, offer escapism and pleasure.

"I am good at what I do and I enjoy what I do," reads the woman's ad on Backpage. "You will leave satisfied and wanting to come back for more."

Chattanooga police Chief Bobby Dodd said investigators work all venues where prostitution is present.

"We monitor local papers. We monitor Internet sites. Anything you think of where there's men's and women's services that can be bought and sold we monitor those. We do reverse stings," he said. "We do roundups. We send out people [undercover] who work as johns and pick up prostitutes."

Dodd declined to talk about the specifics of the ongoing case.

He said no one has ever uncovered a prostitution ring or found anyone being held as a slave locally.

"Most of these women who get into this are in it for some reason. Either ... something's gone terribly wrong in their life. They're addicted to drugs. Mental illness," he said. "And they get hooked up with someone who hustles them. 'Let's work together. I care about you.' And in the end we know it's about money."

A Facebook page says the woman has two young sons. She smiles in her profile picture in a tightly cropped photo with her toddler touching her mouth. An infant clings to her chest. She has 75 online friends.

In an old Myspace account, she wrote, "My life has always been hell. Abused by my grandmother. Raped almost everywhere I go and abandoned by my mom. Every guy I have dated has been ashamed of me and don't like to take me out in public and they always expect sex from me." She was 17 the time of the post.

"NOTHING BUT TALK"?

Organizations such as the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults and a local organization dedicated to ending sex trafficking -- Second Life Chattanooga -- have rallied the community in the past year to be aware of the problem. They have spoken of how it continues to be a growing problem in the state. Second Life doesn't provide services for victims, but instead promotes awareness of the problem.

Regina McDevitt, director of crisis services at the Partnership, declined to say how many trafficking victims the Partnership has helped.

"When you just have a few, it's hard to give that data out," she said.

"The services are currently limited to what we have. And we can fit [trafficking victims] in the scope of our current programming," she said. "But they have some really different needs is what we're discovering. We need to continue to have training and find dollars to provide services."

In the list of sexually explicit ads, a Van Nuys, Calif.-based organization, Children of the Night, features an ad for the Chattanooga area to help children who may be prostituted.

Lois Lee, president and founder of the organization, said there has been little action nationwide when it comes to trafficking. People are quick to speak out against it, but often don't rush to help, she said.

"The so-called trafficking organizations who do nothing but talk created such bad will between trafficking organizations and Backpage and Craigslist that it took me two years to get the meeting with Backpage to get this program going," she said. "Think how many children suffered while these do-gooders engaged in self-promotion on the backs of the children they claim to help. The attorney generals in America spend more time protecting consumers from auto shops than children and parents who fall victim to nongovernmental organizations who say they do one thing and then do another."

Lee said her organization's ad campaign on Backpage is relatively new.

"Rescued two girls from pimps in first week. Another agency told us they rescued a girl with police after the girl saw our ad," she said.

Troutman remains in the Hamilton County Jail on a $165,000 bond. His next court date is Monday before Hamilton County Sessions Court Judge David Bales.

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