Wilson County not immune in human trafficking issue

Staff Reports • Dec 17, 2015 at 7:02 PM

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officially launched a new outreach Monday to raise awareness of human trafficking in Tennessee.

The campaign, titled “IT Has To Stop,” seeks to increase awareness of human trafficking in Tennessee and beyond. The centerpiece of the campaign, ithastostop.com, features information, current research and statistics, video, important contacts and links for visitors to join nonprofits and other groups in the efforts to curb trafficking in Tennessee. Visitors can also connect with the campaign on designated Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Human trafficking is also apparent in Wilson County with charges filed recently in two cases. 

A Wilson County grand jury indicted two Georgia men in early July accused of statutory rape in an ongoing TBI human trafficking case.

District Attorney Tommy Thompson requested TBI agents start an investigation Aug. 1, 2012 that involved an underage girl believed to be a sex trafficking victim.

Agents said they developed information that James Elston Harris, 54, of Hogansville, Ga., and James Green Jr., 42, of LaGrange, Ga., engaged in sexual intercourse with the victim. Agents said both men admitted to the sexual activity in statements to TBI.

The grand jury returned indictments June 13 for Harris and Green, charging each with one count of aggravated statutory rape.

In mid-June, TBI agents also received an indictment for a Lebanon man accused of being in connection with an ongoing sex-trafficking investigation.

At Thompson’s request, TBI special agents started an investigation involving Travis Lamar Stargill, 38, on Aug. 1, 2012.

During the investigation, agents learned information leading them to believe that on Sept. 4, 2011, Stargill engaged in sexual intercourse with a minor female victim who was trafficked for sex.

On May 12, a Wilson County grand jury returned an indictment for Stargill, charging him with one count of aggravated statutory rape.

“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, it’s unacceptable, and it’s a crime in Tennessee,” said TBI Director Mark Gwyn. “We hope TBI’s new public awareness campaign sheds some much-needed light on the issue, so we can increase the number of people who insist it has to stop in our state and beyond.”

Research by The Polaris Project, a national leader in the fight against human trafficking, indicates it to be one of the fastest-growing criminal enterprises in the United States. The U.S. Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimate the number of children bought and sold in the country for the purpose of sexual exploitation to number at least 100,000. The average age of a trafficking victim is 13.

“Tennessee has recently been recognized for great strides in enacting laws to protect survivors of trafficking,” said Gwyn. “We also have trusted nonprofits on the frontlines of this troubling fight. Now, we hope this new effort is our state’s next step to rally public support and increase awareness of this kind of crime and the way out for those trapped.”

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