CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - It's a heinous crime that Chattanooga Police have just pinned on someone for the first time. Human sex trafficking isn't new to our area, but the way it's being handled criminally is.
State lawmakers and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations were in Chattanooga Friday for a town hall meeting discussing human trafficking. They talked about how big of a problem it is here and what we as a community can do to fight it.
Chattanooga Police arrested 31-year-old Khari Troutman Saturday. Officers say he was holding a woman against her will and prostituting her out through online ads.
Friday investigators explained it's not the first human trafficking case in Chattanooga, but it is the first one prosecuted under new, stricter laws.
"Problem is a lot of time local law enforcement, they get confused between what is prostitution, kidnapping and human trafficking and it's three different issues," Rep. Eric Watson said.
So, the state legislature is paying for the TBI to train officers on identifying human sex trafficking. This comes after a study revealed 85% of the state has reports of it, mostly girls 9 to 12 and with almost 50 in Hamilton County alone.
"It was absolutely stunning, the results. No one expected it to be that prevalent," TBI Director Mark Gwyn said.
It's so prevalent, it's as easy as getting on your phone or computer, and searching sites like Craigslist, many times presented as massage ads.
"It's a problem we've got to get our arms around because the victims in this. We've got to think about the victims," Gwyn said.
They say it's happening in Chattanooga more than other parts of the state because of easy access to Atlanta, which is the country's leader in human trafficking.
"You can see where these women are brought in in vans, six or seven at a time every week," Rep. Watson said.
As they train officers, they want to also train the public to look out for unusual relationships around you.
"A male with maybe several young females in an area that's probably not where they should be. We all know what a family looks like," Gwyn said.
If you suspect signs of human trafficking, there is a hotline where you can call in tips at 855-558-6484.