Human traffickers operating out of well known Mid-South location - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Human traffickers operating out of well known Mid-South locations

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MEMPHIS, TN -

By Janice Broach - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) – The FBI calls it modern day slavery: humans for sale right here in Memphis.  Men, women and sometimes children are for sale, and the criminals behind the enterprise are using some well known places to do business.

"A lot of times they literally are forced," said Jeremy Baker, a supervisory agent for the FBI. "Sometimes they're locked down. Sometimes they are beaten so bad they fear they can't leave or they're threatened with serious physical harm or even the threat of death."

According to Baker, human traffickers are targeting the Mid-South.

"Could be forced labor, could be sexual acts, could be sexual exploitation of children," he said.

A four-month investigation by the local human rights group Operation Broken Silence found most of the activity centers on sex, and much of it starts online.

"Before Craigslist had a lot of pressure placed on them, a lot of the ads were on Craigslist," said Ryan Dalton of Operation Broken Silence. "They have since moved to Backpage."

Backpage.com a web site where you can buy just about anything.

"Someone can log on to the web site and browse like they would for anything - a new car, a lawn mower, but they can also search for people," Dalton said.

According to Operation Broken Silence, during the last quarter of 2010, more than 1,900 ads posted on Backpage listed women for sale in the Memphis and Tunica region.  The ads were for things like "Busty and Thick", "Sweet Treat", and "Super Sexy Irish Doll."

"A john will call that number," Dalton said. "He'll call the number of the person if he sees somebody he wants to have sex with, and the pimp or trafficker will answer."

The FBI says a lot of women on sites like this are forced into prostitution by traffickers, who bring them here under the guise they'll be doing legitimate work.

"They're forced to do this, which is something very different than they agreed to do," Dalton said.

And guess where it's happening the most in Memphis? According to this research, Sam Cooper Highway, Memphis International Airport and the Wolfchase Mall area.  People aren't sold in these places – they're just pick-up points. Researchers say the Wolfchase shopping area is appealing to human traffickers because it's close to the interstate  and there are lot of people with money in their pockets there.

Operation Broken Silence says Memphis International Airport is a hot spot to buy humans because of how many businessmen are traveling alone, and because it's close to strip clubs. The FBI says sex slaves are brought in from all over the Mid-South and around the world.

"The FBI views human trafficking and all civil rights violations as some of the most serious violations that we investigate," Baker said.

Attorneys General in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi joined 18 other states in asking Backpage.com to close its adult services section back in September.  But it's still open, and busier than ever, though users must agree to report suspected exploitation of minors and human trafficking to the appropriate authorities.

But be warned: not only are the traffickers breaking the law, so are YOU if you're looking to buy humans for sale.

"With the advent of the digital age, people using the internet, social media, digital media more often, it's another avenue we can monitor things and see where possible criminal activity is occurring," Baker said.

A spokesperson for Backpage.com released a statement which said, "Backpage.com is committed to preventing those who are intent on misusing the site for illegal purposes.  We have implemented a series of new safety enhancements over the past several months to better protect our communities and will continue to further increase our safety practices."

The FBI would not comment on the research conducted by Operation Broken Silence specifically, but they have seen the study.

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