A children’s pastor at a Southern Baptist church was among 32 people arrested in a three-day human trafficking sting operation in Knoxville, Tenn., law enforcement officials announced May 20.
Jason Kennedy, 46, children’s pastor for birth through fifth grade at Grace Baptist Church of Knoxville, was charged with patronizing prostitution and trafficking. Police said Kennedy was one of just two suspects charged with felony trafficking, because they answered ads for what they thought they were girls under the age of 18.
Officials at the 4,000-member church with an average attendance of just under 2,500 weren’t commenting to media Friday afternoon. A staff bio since removed from the church website said Kennedy is married and the father of three. He attended New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Local media reported that Kennedy was jailed in lieu of $50,500 bond.
According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, the investigation called “Operation Someone Like Me” is the fifth operation of its kind in the state in a crackdown on human trafficking. Undercover agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Knoxville Police Department detectives posted ads on Backpage.com generating more than 300 contacts.
“You shouldn’t be able to order up a girl just like you order up a pizza,” TBI Special Agent Margie Quin said in a YouTube video describing the operation. “Life’s more valuable than that. This woman’s or this girl’s life is more valuable than that.”
While not all prostitutes are trafficked, Quin said, the youngest girl the TBI is working with is age 13. Girls and women caught up in trafficking don’t cry out for help, she said, because to them it is “just how things are” and the only world they know.
“There would be no supply of women and children for sex if there was no demand,” Quin said. “Going after the demand aspect of this crime is critically important to try to reduce the numbers of victims out there.”