Kentucky Drug Gangs are Exploiting Women as Pawns in their Meth-Trafficking Operations

Lexington, Ky–Drug trafficking in Eastern Kentucky is becoming increasingly violent, and women are often the victims of this violence, according to a report from the Herald-Leader’s Taylor Six. A recent case involving the kidnapping and torture of a Tennessee woman highlights the dark undercurrent of violence that exists beneath the surface of the drug trade in the region.

The victim, who was lured to a drug deal through Facebook Messenger, was abducted at gunpoint and transported to Corbin, Kentucky. Her kidnappers had a .38 revolver and a homemade pipe bomb to coerce her compliance. She was bound, blindfolded, burned, and repeatedly sexually assaulted over the course of 48 hours.

The kidnapping and assault were fueled by a perceived methamphetamine debt and underlying drug trafficking by 39-year-old Douglas Edmonson. Federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives were called to the scene of the kidnapping, where they detonated several homemade explosives. Edmonson was convicted of kidnapping and received a 43-year prison sentence. Other defendants, including Erik Peace, Bryanna Soper, and Dallas Anna Chain Perkins, were also convicted of kidnapping.

Federal prosecutors and investigators say that the case in Corbin is indicative of a worsening problem in Eastern Kentucky. Underneath the white wave top of drug trafficking in the region lies a dark undercurrent of violence, and women are often the victims of this violence.

Women in these cases are viewed as “human collateral” and “an insurance policy” by traffickers who believe they can use female victims as leverage within a drug trafficking operation, most often to repay or secure debts. Traffickers in Eastern Kentucky have their own laws and rules to abide by, which keep victims from going to the police for help.

“In the meth world there’s almost a parallel culture where people in that world believe that they’re their own police, they’re their own law enforcement, they’re their own collection agents,” said U.S. District Judge Robert E. Wier in court documents. “… They are operating outside of the boundaries that the rest of us take for granted. And I think that most of America would be kind of shocked what I hear in this courtroom month after month.”

According to investigators and prosecutors, when they investigate drug and gun trafficking in Eastern Kentucky, they commonly find links from trafficking to other crimes like kidnapping, assault, and sexual assault against a vulnerable population.

Special Agent Todd Tremaine with the ATF and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jenna Reed work together in Eastern Kentucky to investigate and prosecute these crimes. They have noticed a disturbing subculture of violence in drug trafficking organizations, specifically violence against women who may not be part of the organization but are suffering heinous acts of physical and sexual assault in the midst of the drug trafficking organization.

In another case prosecuted by Reed and investigated by Tremaine, a man named Jake Messer kidnapped another man and his girlfriend in April 2018 because he believed the man had stolen $10,000 Messer had given him to buy marijuana. Messer and others threatened the man and his girlfriend for about 24 hours. During that time, Jake Messer and his father, George Oscar Messer, sexually assaulted the woman. Her wrists and ankles were bound, and George Messer was armed with a pistol at the time of the crime. Jake and George Messer both received life sentences for two counts of kidnapping in 2022.

The cases of violence against women in drug trafficking organizations in Eastern Kentucky are a growing concern for federal investigators and prosecutors. They hope to bring more attention to this issue and work to put an end to the violence.

According to authorities, female drug addicts are being used as pawns and sex slaves by drug-trafficking organizations in Eastern Kentucky. The report reveals that women loosely involved with drug organizations are being forced to provide sex as payment, revenge or a debt for substances. It also said that the sexual nature of the offenses makes women more likely targets. The report cited several incidents where such women were assaulted, tortured, and even murdered when they tried to leave.

Experts have attributed the rise in these cases to higher-quality drugs being shipped into the area and cartels taking control of the market. Additionally, economic vulnerability and fear of being labeled a “rat” or “snitch” and facing death threats have created a perfect environment for traffickers to exploit. In most cases, women did not report these crimes to law enforcement because they had no support system and lacked the confidence that the police would take any action.

“I think that most of America would be kind of shocked what I hear in this courtroom month after month,” U.S. District Judge Robert E. Wier wrote in court documents.