NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Over 40 people were arrested last week in what is being called Tennessee’s “most significant human trafficking operation to date.”
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) announced the arrests on Friday, which were a part of “Operation Someone Like Me.”
“This week I learned that we are only scratching the surface,” TBI Director Mark Gwyn remarked during a press conference. “This is our most significant operation to date.”
The arrests were comprised of 34 men, six women and one juvenile, and ranged in occupation from a high school teacher to a trucker to a college football player.
TBI had posted online trap ads for sexual encounters last Tuesday, with some agents posing as underage girls. The bureau received hundreds of responses, half of which were from those seeking sex with minors.
Assistant Special Agent in Charge Margie Quin said that she was deeply disturbed over the number of responses to the advertisements.
“Even with as many of these operations that we have conducted across the state, it’s still shocking that half of the men responding to these ads wanted to pay to have sex with a minor,” she told reporters. “We’re working toward helping victims of trafficking and taking these predators off the streets.”
Among those arrested include David Shepard, 56, a teacher at Hunters Lane High School, who has now been placed on leave.
“He self-reported and we placed him on administrative leave immediately,” spokesman Joe Bass told the Tennessean. “He has been a science teacher at Hunters Lane since 2014.”
Gary Canty, 20, a former Vanderbilt University football player, was also arrested in the bust.
In an online video outlining “Operation Someone Like Me,” Quin shares why the bureau fights trafficking so aggressively.
“It is just heartbreaking and gut-wrenching to listen to these young girls tell the stories of the things that have happened to them,” she explains. “There would be no supply of women and children for sex if there was no demand. Going after the demand aspect of this crime is critically important to try to reduce the number of victims out there.”
“As law enforcement departments really come to understand what trafficking is, I think we will see more cases come to light. I think we will see more victims identified, and I think we will begin to see them identified at younger and younger ages,” Quin states. “The youngest victim we’re working with right now at TBI is 13. So, we’ve got to identify them at 10, 11, 12, 13.”
As previously reported, according to The Global Slavery Index, it is estimated that between 57,000–63,000 sex slave victims currently reside in America. The report outlines that the nation’s wealth, combined with a demand for cheap labor, makes the U.S. a prime destination for human trafficking.
The Obama administration has concurred that sex trafficking is a malady in the nation.
“The United States is a source, transit and destination country for some of these men, women and children—both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals—who are subjected to the injustices of human trafficking, including forced labor, debt bondage, involuntary servitude, and sex trafficking,” it outlines on WhiteHouse.gov.