Study examines sex trafficking in Middle Tennessee

Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 4:31pm
Staff reports

It’s Human Trafficking Awareness Day and a new local study released by End Slavery Tennessee provides specific information on the sex trafficking in Middle Tennessee.

The advocacy group collected data from “adult escort” ads in Nashville. The auditors ranged from a student at Belmont University to a representative from the Department of Homeland Security.

Among their findings:

  • Ads for commercial sex and online prostitution were listed in Nashville, Brentwood, Cool Springs, Donelson, and Hermitage. “Each of these suburbs of Nashville represent varying socioeconomic demographics and the data showing prostitution among all of them helps dispel the misconception that trafficking and prostitution are relegated only to lower income and ethnic communities,” the report reads.
  • Over the course of three weeks, 2,051 unique “sex for sale” ads were posted in the Nashville area.
  • The average cost of sex that is purchased through Backpage in Nashville is $154 for “in-calls” and $216 for “out-calls.”
  • 136 area codes were recorded in the ads. They represented states from Florida to California to New York.

In 2010, the Tennessee attorney general joined a group of 16 other state attorneys general in asking Backpage to remove the adult escort portion of their website. According to the attorneys general, the web site was a hotbed for prostitution, sex trafficking, and other sex crimes.

They made a similar request of Craigslist, which eventually ceded to the group. Backpage still lists their escort services.

The report recommends closing the Backpage escort services and calls on lawmakers to pass tougher penalties for those convicted of trafficking and promoting prostitution.

8 Comments on this post:

By: spooky24 on 1/12/12 at 5:06

The figures produced by this 'local study' are taken out of context and crime figures should be left to the professional who research them daily. Obviously, ulterior motivations are at play here and if you want to make a point about racial equality or immigrant issues don't try to mask it in phony research.
The vaulted, holier than thou FBI data base is free from political issues and does not support any of these numbers-quite frankly they are ludicrous. I, and many others, would like for this group to identify the "a representative from the Department of Homeland Security" who took part in this political exercise about lower income issues.
As far as the numbers go so many of these ads are reproductions and are repetitive in nature and data gathering can't be garnered by a political sideshow. The Attorney General has no right to tell websites who they may or may not have as clients and how 'Ads" should be placed.
Trafficking of individuals across state lines against their will for criminal execution of prostitution is a federal issue and the FBI has jurisdiction and works daily to stop these individuals from any organizational enterprise as laid out in the RICO statues.


By: Moonglow1 on 1/12/12 at 8:19

Moonglow1: Human Trafficking Awareness day??? Let's get real. Instead of this catchy slogan, get the feds here to do a real investigation as the previous post suggests.

By: Knofler on 1/12/12 at 9:46

Human Trafficking Day? I guess the fact that most of these women do so under their own free will and without a "pimp" isn't taken into consideration. And I doubt you had 2051 individual escorts in Nashville in a 3 week period, I would assume Metro PD advertises on there as well.

By: frodo on 1/13/12 at 7:46

I've agreed with some of you here some of the time, but on this one I have to say give pause to reality. This is not about curbing out rights. And I sure hope spooky dude isn't proposing we give up on our own problems and just let the smarter people of the federal govt handle it all. Yes, I'm sure there is plenty of "good" old fashioned free-trade prostitution flourishing on Backpage. Sure wouldn't want to stand in the way of that, would we? But this story is about innocent daughters and granddaughters snatched away and forced to have sex with strangers. If that does not arouse a little concern, then excuse me, I didn't realize this is the forum for .

By: frodo on 1/13/12 at 8:10

...I didn't realize this is the forum for (I'll not say what I'm thinking).

By: not_guilty on 1/13/12 at 8:26

I may be missing something, but how does the mere existence of these ads evince "trafficking"? Assuming arguendo that the services advertised include sex, how does placing an ad indicate whether the sex worker is or is not working of her own volition and at her own initiative?

What am I missing?

During the early part of the last decade, most of the brothels operating in Nashville were closed by (mis)use of the public nuisance statutes. The predictable result was an increase in outcall prostitution, which is relatively more dangerous to both the buyer and the seller.

Are we better off?

By: frodo on 1/13/12 at 10:52

not_guilty, I have to admit that, re-reading the story, the point is not clear. While some adults are trafficking victims mixed into the batch of prostitutes, many the study identified are clearly MINORS. These minors don't just wake up one day and decide to post an ad. These minors are managed by adults. By legal definition, a minor is not a prostitute. A minor is "prostituted" by someone else. They are the victim of human trafficking, whether by their own incompetent decision or by absolute force. And I'm sure it happens both ways. So the people doing this study saw many ads for the services of people who are either represented as or their photo clearly shows them to be underage.

By: CRDalton on 1/13/12 at 10:57

Hey all,

I authored the report and think some of you are raising good questions.

As far as the methodology, we explained it very clearly and even offered the raw data as a supplement to the report. Any questions about the validity and accuracy of the content can be answered. We are completely transparent in how we arrived at the statistics published in the report. We invite any scrutiny on our work.

Secondly, I gave credit to Backpage's claim that the AG cannot tell them what to do. That is correct. Instead, we advanced the idea that the AG is pressuring Backpage because Backpage cannot effectively regulate the ads. That is the larger issue here. No one is advocating censorship of Backpage by the government passing a law or something. We were very fair on this point while also sticking to our conviction about Backpage's inability to effectively monitor ads for human trafficking.

Lastly, we never said that the ads mean human trafficking. I am not sure that some of the posters here have actually read the report. It is unfair to make a criticism on a document you have not read. If we were clear about anything, we were clear that the document shows a relationship between commercial sex and human trafficking but will not always cite specific examples of human trafficking. Not all of the ads are trafficking, but they are all prostitution. Prostitution will invite trafficking; the supply of commercial sex indicates demand. When there is demand, there will always be the profit maximizing form of prostitution - sex trafficking.

Spooky claims that the report has been taken out of context, but gives no evidence of specific examples which have been taken out of context, nor provides the context with which to compare the information.

If you have legitimate concerns about our methodology, results, or any of our findings, please feel free to reach out to the OBS staff through Thanks!