More than a dozen arrests have been made as part of an undercover human trafficking sting in East Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI).
The TBI announced that with the assistance of the Chattanooga Police Department and Homeland Security, 14 men were arrested in Chattanooga following a two-day operation that began on Dec. 9.
The men are accused of seeking sex from minors.
“Authorities placed several decoy advertisements on websites known to be linked to prostitution and commercial sex cases” during the operation, the bureau said, noting that it sought to find individuals who were attempting to engage in “commercial sex acts with minors.”
The 14 men, six of whom are from Chattanooga, have since been booked into Hamilton County Jail, the TBI said.
They face charges including trafficking for commercial sex act, possession of a firearm while in commission of a felony, and possession of marijuana.
The bureau in March carried out a similar operation in the state that led to authorities arresting eight men accused of seeking sex from minors.
Since taking office, President Donald Trump has made fighting human trafficking a top priority of his administration. He signed an executive order in January focused on eliminating human trafficking and online child exploitation in the United States, which requires resources to be directed in ways that would result in the prosecution of offenders, assist victims, and expand prevention education programs.
The president also has signed nine pieces of legislation into law to help take on human trafficking.
His administration has also taken multiple crucial steps to tackle the issue. In a proclamation issued in January, the president noted that the multi-agency Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team initiative had more than doubled its convictions of human traffickers in its targeted districts.
“We renew our resolve to redouble our efforts to deliver justice to all who contribute to the cruelty of human trafficking, and will tenaciously pursue the promise of freedom for all victims of this terrible crime,” Trump said in a statement on Oct. 20.
The Department of Homeland Security in October announced the opening of its Washington-based Center for Countering Human Trafficking, calling it the first operations center of its kind supporting federal criminal investigations in the United States.
Sex and labor trafficking victimize almost 25 million people worldwide, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2019 “Trafficking in Persons” report (pdf).