CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF)- 14 men were arrested as part of an undercover investigation aimed at addressing human trafficking in East Tennessee.
6 of them were from Chattanooga.
All arrested after the T.B.I set up a two day sting with the assistance of the Chattanooga Police Department and Homeland Security.
Authorities say that they placed several decoy advertisements on websites known to be linked to prostitution and commercial sex cases.
Sarah McKinnis, the President of Williowbend farms says, “These operations are extremely important. Not only in finding those that are soliciting sex from minors, but also for those victims that arrive on site.”
According to the T.B.I., one adult woman was offered services such as housing and counseling through Grow Free Tennessee, a program of the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking, and Willowbend Farms.
“Our mantra from the very beginning as always been if its just for the one than we have done what we were called to do. I’m amazed at the individuals that we have been able to help. So far this year, we have been able to help over 90 individuals”, adds McKinnis
McKinnis says that last year they only helped 30 individuals reach safety.
She says that the Coronavirus has played a part in the increase of victims.
“Well, we had a decline at the beginning of COVID. But then, when everything began to come back online, if you will, it was multiplied and there was a change in the way that trafficking was taking place during COVID. It didn’t stop. It was pivoting just like the rest of the world.”
Willowbend Farms was awarded a $700,000 grant this year to continue to fight against sex trafficking in our area.
The organization is planning to build a Human Trafficking Emergency Response Center, the first of its kind in our area.
For more information visit their website.