The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports social services agencies in the area have known about the growing problem and even helped victims, but no one had ever reported trafficking to law enforcement until last week.
That is when a 21-year-old Baltimore woman was able to escape the man she says was a pimp holding her against her will. The woman borrowed a cell phone from someone in a restaurant bathroom and called police.
Khari Matthew Troutman was arrested and charged with domestic assault, kidnapping and promoting prostitution.
He is in the Hamilton County Jail. Bail is set at $165,000.
The woman told police she met Troutman at a motel in Silver Springs, Md. She said she agreed to work for him as a prostitute and was taken to Knoxville, Chattanooga and North Carolina, according to a Chattanooga police report. Customers were found by placing online advertisements.
But the woman said Troutman became violent after she asked to go back to Maryland so that she could visit her children in foster care. When she told him she would find her own way back, he beat her, she said. The police report notes that her face was marked with bruises.
Troutman told police he was in a romantic relationship with the woman. He said he and a friend were sightseeing with the woman and two prostitutes. He said the woman chose to prostitute herself on her own time.
Tennessee law defines sexual trafficking as someone forcing another person into sexual servitude.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported last year that more than 100 people in Hamilton County were trafficking victims. But that information came through reports collected from social services organizations, not the police.
Organizations such as the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults and Second Life Chattanooga have rallied the Chattanooga community in the past year to be aware of sex trafficking locally. They say it continues to be a growing problem in Tennessee.
Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com