Uncovering Nashville's Sex Slave Underworld
NASHVILLE, Tenn.--We tackle the ugly issue of the exploding child sex slave trade in Middle Tennessee.
Over the next several months, Fox 17 is committed to helping children trapped in this underworld in hopes of bringing more kids out of the shadows.
This is Taylor's story and we want to warn you the material is graphic.
You've heard Nashville labeled an "it" city..."it" for tourism, "it" for opportunity and now..."it" for child sex too.
As the women in Taylor's recovery group sing Happy Birthday to her, this 19 year old admits she's lucky to even be alive.
Taylor says "I was like any other 16 year old girl. I just wanted to be loved. I was really vulnerable and I met a man who sold me a dream."
A dream of love, security, a nice home.
Taylor explains, "We will lay there and talk about future goals where ya know, where we were going to live. How many kids we were going to have. I met his kids. He's a daddy and I met them and fell in love with his kids too."
At first, it all seemed realistic. Until the abuse started. The isolation, the control, the beating.
Taylor: "He got into this really bad habit of choking me out and i had bruises of choke mark prints on my neck, all around my neck."
Once he had Taylor, she was expected to produce money with her teenage body.
Taylor says, "When I was with my trafficker, he used a lack of sleep a lot of times. I would stay up for about three days straight and then pass out for a few hours and then he'd put me back out to work. I remember going to truck stops and it started snowing and I'm in bootie shorts and heels and a see through tank top and it starts snowing outside and I said, 'I'm freezing' and he said, 'Well, you better get in those trucks quickly."
Davidson County Assistant District Attorney Tammy Meade explains it this way, "The next thing you know she thinks she's doing one thing and he's got her doing something else."
Meade's sole job is to track sex traffickers and put them in jail. Meade says Nashville is on the circuit with men hustling children, mostly young girls, back and forth from Nashville to Chattanooga to Atlanta to memphis.
Meade says they're even blindfolded or they're put in the back of a panel van where they can't really see out so they don't even know where they're going next.
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the average age of a child sex slave is just 13 and an average of 94 children are trafficked in and out of Nashville every single month. Most are picked up on social media by men who know just what to promise vulnerable girls with low self esteem.
That's why the TBI is out with an in-your-face ad that says, "Every two minutes someone buys a child for sex."
Meade explains what these men tell the girls, "If you don't turn 25 tricks today. I'm going to hurt you. Meade says they accomplish this by going thirty minutes at a time or 15 minutes at a time.
Young girls are picked up on seemingly innocent sites like Instagram then bought and sold on Backpage, where they're often advertised as older than they really are.
Taylor tried to leave more than once. She says he found her and beat her to the point of unconsciousness.
It's a vicious cycle Rachel Irby with the rescue group Unchained Movement is trying to break. She let us listen in as she Skypes with an anonymous woman forced into child sex slavery.
What follows is an excerpt from that Skype interview:
Rachel Irby: "I'm going to be asking you some tough questions. How many men were you seeing a day?"
Girl: "Probably 7 or 8."
Rachel Irby: "And you were 16 at the time?"
Irby is trying to bring this young woman out of the shadows. She explains how she wanted to be a heart surgeon. She had her whole life planned out.
Taylor had big dreams too saying she wanted to be a prom queen in school. End Slavery Tennessee rescued Taylor.
She says she wound up broken and branded. Yes, Taylor's trafficker branded her with a tattoo on her neck. It's a common practice in the sex slave trade.
She explains why she's attending tattoo removal sessions. It's an important step in her recovery, "Well, I just got a tattoo removal session. His name is going to be off of me and i'm going to be my own person again."
Taylor can't erase her past, but she can erase the marks of ownership. She one day hopes to be a counselor for other girls like her.
We continue raising awareness about child sex slavery in another special report airing next Thursday on Fox 17 News at 9.
In the meantime, here are links to a number of resources to help you or someone you love who may be caught in the underworld of sexual slavery.
Tennessee Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline: 1-855-558-6484.