By BROOKE WANSER
Shared Hope International, a self-described “Christian abolitionist” group fighting the sexual exploitation of minors, announced on Wednesday that Tennessee has received the highest score in the United States for strengthening the state’s child sex trafficking laws.
According to Shared Hope International, Tennessee has demonstrated a 7-year trend of gradually strengthening the state’s child sex trafficking laws. The group gave Tennessee a score of 96.5 out of 102.5 on its 2017 Protected Innocence Challenge report card.
“It is because of the hard work of many local agencies and individuals that Tennessee is the highest scoring state,” said Jerry Redman, chief executive officer for Second Life Chattanooga. “Tennessee receiving the top score this year shows that our collaborative strategy and impact approach is yielding results.”
The group had praise for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which just last month conducted a sting along with the Brentwood Police Department that led to 22 arrests of men who showed up at a hotel expecting to have sex with a teenage girl.
TBI Director Mark Gwyn, in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, praised Gov. Haslam and the legislature for work toward strengthening state laws and programs.
“These people are sick,” Gwyn said. “Just go on backpage.com and pull up any city in the state. It remains a huge problem.”
Backpage.com has been criticized for running “adult services” ads that sometimes have been found to involve exploited minors. Gwyn said that problem is a federal issue, but pledged to continue fighting trafficking, including trying to coordinate the fight with agencies in other states.
“We’ve got to address the demand if we are going to end this crime,” said Derry Smith of End Slavery Tennessee.
The Protected Innocence Challenge report card is the only comprehensive study in the nation of existing state laws on child sex trafficking. Through the Protected Innocence Challenge, each state receives a report card and analysis that covers 41 legislative components that address a state’s laws and the state’s ability to respond to child sex trafficking. States are encouraged to implement analysis recommendations from Shared Hope International in order to better address sex trafficking in their area.
Tennessee’s 2017 report card details the penalties the state executes for sex trafficking, the improvements in protective services for survivors, the tools law enforcement agencies are equipped with to effectively investigate the issue and recommendations to further improve existing programs.
“The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has been an incredible partner of ours,” Redman said. “They serve on the front lines of this issue and bring offenders to justice. We are also grateful to Gov. Bill Haslam and our state legislators who have ensured that we have laws in place to serve the survivors and punish those engaging in human sex trafficking.”
Second Life is one of Tennessee’s four single-point-of-contact non-governmental agencies that comprise the Tennessee Anti-Slavery Alliance (TASA). TASA agencies include Second Life, End Slavery TN, Grow Free TN and Restore Corps. The Alliance seeks to ensure that quality survivor services are available for those affected by human sex trafficking.
“This is a huge step forward, and we celebrate this achievement; however, this score also serves as a reminder that we must continue advocating for those affected by this crime,” Redman said. “It is our duty to improve our work and to educate the community about trafficking so we can see human sex trafficking eradicated in Tennessee.”
To view Tennessee’s full report card, visit Shared Hope International Tennessee Report Card 2017.