Cook: Wickedest crime in our city

Cook: Wickedest crime in our city

May 30th, 2011 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

Document: TBI Report

Celebrating the Civil War's 150th anniversary and partying like it's 1859, hundreds of folks traveled to the re-enactment battle in Resaca, Ga., earlier this month.

With cannon smoke in the air, wool-uniformed re-enactors tried to duplicate the war experience, right down to the buttons on their sleeves, oil in their lamps and flasks in their hip pockets. Anyone that devoted and passionate has my respect.

I just wish we could put the same sort of energy into re-enacting the abolition movement.

After all, the Civil War ended.

But slavery has not.

"Children are moved from city to city in (Tennessee) and sold as prostitutes," the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation recently reported. "Human trafficking and sex slavery in Tennessee is more common than previously believed possible."

Modern slavery, or human trafficking, is one of the wickedest crimes on earth today. Victims are mainly children and women, who are enslaved and forced into sexual and labor bondage.

Globally, there are nearly 27 million people enslaved, the report claims. Domestically, 300,000 children (more than all Confederate Civil War deaths) are at risk of being trafficked.

Do not picture minimum-wage workers or call girls. Instead, try to imagine an 8-year-old forced into repeated sex, sold the way dealers sell drugs.

"It is monstrous," said Jerry Redman of Chattanooga's Second Life. "And it is happening right here in Hamilton County."

Redman's group was formed four years

ago to unite the 21st century abolition movement here in our city. On Thursday, Second Life is meeting with area service providers as a way to align forces and stop what may be the greatest crime in our city.

Parents sell their own children, or runaway teens are trapped, controlled by pimps who enslave through drug addiction, abuse and terror. And customers - known as "johns" - can be as violent as any 18th-century slave owner.

"Who wants to have sex with 15 or 20 men a day?" pleaded one victim whose story was told in the TBI report, and who also claims to have been raped multiple times in multiple Tennessee cities by police officers in exchange for not going to jail. "It was a living ... hell."

Eighty-five percent of all Tennessee counties reported one or more cases of sex trafficking in the last two years, the report says. Last July, one East Tennessee man was arrested for trafficking 400 women.

Several interstates pass through our city, creating an ominous geography prone for trafficking, authorities claim. It doesn't help we're near what authorities say is the worst city in America for sexual slavery.

"Atlanta is ground zero for someone wanting to have sex with a child in the United States," said Redman, who says the city's adult entertainment industry and multiple sporting events contribute to what is known as "sex tourism."

Yet our state Legislature - which ordered the TBI report - is fighting back by passing recent laws that strengthen asset forfeiture for pimps and johns and increasing the crime of sex with a minor from misdemeanor to felony.

Additional laws decriminalize juvenile prostitution and fund a statewide trafficking hot line. Sources inside Nashville are also hoping the Legislature will mandate law enforcement training so police can be better equipped to spot trafficking.

On high school and college campuses in our area, many student groups are responding. Churches, generally silent as Civil War slavery raged, now have a chance to respond to modern-day injustice.

"With estimates as high as 1,100 local churches in the greater Chattanooga area, we desperately need a much larger response to this issue from the faith community," Redman said. "What greater good could we be involved in than to help those that have been stripped of their humanity?"

David Cook can be reached at davidcook@blumail.org.