Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn announced a big win for Chattanoooga and victims of human trafficking in Chattanooga on Monday after completing a two-part operation that led to the arrests of 20 men.
“Operation Someone Like Me” is the third operation of its kind in Tennessee and it spanned four days in September and October.
By partnering with the Chattanooga Police Department, End Slavery Tennessee and Second Life Chattanooga, TBI agents were able to identify numerous offenders with the help of 12 women who came forward to receive rescue services and assist where possible.
Of those men arrested, twelve were from Tennesee, seven were from Georgia, and one from Alabama. A pimp was also identified and that investigation is still ongoing.
In addition, two of the men reportedly brought guns in their waistbands and one had numerous credit cards along with a skimmer in his car.
TBI Special Agent in Charge Margie Quin said that the bureau has never coordinated such a victim-centric investigation as “Operation Someone Like Me” and that it was titled that because of a comment a victim made.
She reportedly told investigators that, “You don’t know what it means to someone like me that the TBI and the police would be willing to go out and rescue those girls.”
Quin said that during the investigation, they placed 3 ads in back pages over two days to identify potential suspects. Within the first 6 hours of the first day, over 100 men made contact and 11 were arrested. The following day, 40 more contacts were made leading to nine more arrests.
Though numerous investigations into sex trafficking have taken place in recent years, especially since a 2011 report by the bureau shed some light on the extent of the problem in Tennessee, officials today discussed how this investigation is a shift from what has been done in the past.
Chattanooga Police Chief of Staff David Roddy said that specifically the latter part of the investigation was designed to identify and help victims in the industry who have been forced or coerced into the sex trade.
He said, ”This was an enforcement operation, but it was also a rescue operation.”
Gwyn also said that while this is a significant investigation, it is just the beginning for TBI and its partners.
He said, “These are the daughters of our neighbors that are being trafficked. People we know. Citizens of the state of Tennessee.”
“We’re trying our best to eliminate this scourge that is on our community.”