(WSMV) — Law enforcement and rescuers of sex slaves report that because of a saturation of human trafficking in the deep South, more human traffickers are bringing young girls to Middle Tennessee.
"The trafficker said to them (slaves) on the way here, I'm taking you to Nashville because I can make more money off you there," said Derri Smith, executive director of End Slavery.
Sex crimes detectives said that Nashville is part of a four-city human trafficking "loop" that also includes Birmingham, Memphis and Atlanta.
"It's almost like a circuit," said an undercover Metro sex crimes detective.
Investigators said the girls are taken from city to city.
The TBI estimates in Davidson and Coffee counties there have been more than 200 recent cases of minors being sold into slavery.
Photographs obtained by the Channel 4 I-Team from law enforcement show the circumstances where the girls are kept.
One photograph shows a gun in a bathtub where a girl was duct-taped and left for hours.
Another shows the kinds of tickets, often seen in carnivals, that are used to sell the girls.
One group of photos shows shrines set up in hotel rooms to Santa Muerte, a kind of cult, where pimps pray for protections from cops and other competition.
"The youngest investigation I've worked was on a 12-year-old," said the undercover detective.
A survivor of a sex trafficking loop agreed to share her story with the Channel 4 I-Team.
"Stephanie," who is now 18 years old, is currently in Middle Tennessee, brought here by investigators while the men charged with selling her are being prosecuted on the West Coast.
She is getting counseling and help from the nonprofit End Slavery that interviewed her this year, and both they, and Stephanie, agreed to share that interview with Channel 4.
Stephanie said she was 15 when she was first sold into slavery. She said an older man showed her affection and then drugged her.
"I woke up, and I was being raped by everybody in the room," she said.
She said the man then threatened her and said she needed to leave town with him or he would come after her family. After traveling with him for a while, she said the man took her to an abandoned house.
"He chained me to a pole in a basement. I was there for a while," she said.
Stephanie said in that basement, she found she wasn't the only girl being held captive.
"She was all filthy, she was all scared to talk. One day they came down to feed us, and they caught us talking. Then they put her upstairs. And after that, I never seen her again," Stephanie said.
But her ordeal in the loop was just getting started.
"He sold me to a gang member. He (the gang member) made me wear heels, made me wear lingerie to the clubs. He made me prostitute myself," she said.
Finally, she was arrested by police, and revealed her true age.
"I told him my name, I told him my age, I told him when I went missing, I told him how long I was missing," she said.
After agreeing to testify against her abductors, she is now getting help from End Slavery, including documenting on camera how she survived.
"It was totally her idea. She approached us. She said, 'Do you know any journalists? I want to tell my story.' She's ready to have a voice," Smith said.
Smith said Stephanie is working on getting her GED and has a job.