My latest for the Knoxville News Sentinel, published today, July 8, 2017:
The Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking (CCAHT), according to their literature, “is the only counter-trafficking organization in upper East Tennessee that works to unite and equip our community to end modern-day slavery while providing survivors of human trafficking with individualized, relational care.” CCAHT serves human trafficking survivors through their direct services program, Grow Free Tennessee. Similar efforts exist in Chattanooga, Nashville, and Memphis. These organizations form the statewide Tennessee Anti-Slavery Alliance. I had the opportunity recently to sit down with Kate Trudell, Executive Director of CCAHT, and her colleague, Katie Little, Director of Advancement. What I learned was both sobering and hopeful.
Human trafficking is a growing problem in Tennessee, as it is around the country. Perhaps the greatest obstacle in combating modern-day slavery is the continued disbelief that it exists. Human trafficking thrives because people don’t believe it happens here. As each year passes, however, it becomes harder to ignore the reality. In 2015, CCAHT received 23 referrals for their services. In 2016, they received 46. When I met with them last February, they had already received 14 referrals, putting them on pace to more than double their referrals from last year. In Tennessee, 85% of counties have reported at least one case of sex trafficking. In the larger counties, including Knox, there are more, and it’s important to understand that each individual case may include several victims. 71% of counties in Tennessee have reported a sex trafficking case involving a child. In 2016, Tennessee experienced its first conviction of someone trying to purchase sex from a child online. As Ms. Trudell told me, “Those being exploited in our community are from our community.”
So, what’s being done to combat human trafficking? In Tennessee, laws have been passed to protect victims from prosecution. The state is also working closely with organizations in the Tennessee Anti-Slavery Alliance to obtain assistance for victims. A residential facility is planned for victims as a safe haven and to provide basic needs and support to transition from their life as a victim back into the community. Alliances have been formed with the trucking industry, hotels, and travel centers to help them recognize the signs of human trafficking and how to take action to protect and free victims.
What can parents do? First and foremost, develop a relationship with your child that is open to communication. Let your children know that you love them and support them, that you are there for them no matter what. Those children who are most vulnerable to human trafficking are those in the foster/group home communities, children who have suffered sexual or physical abuse, runaways, those with special needs, and anyone who has a weakness that can be exploited, such as feeling unwanted or abandoned or uncared for. The 2017 documentary, “I Am Jane Doe,” is available to watch on Netflix. It tells the stories of girls who were victims and survivors of human trafficking.
What are the signs of human trafficking? Multiple bruises or cuts at different stages of healing, wearing the same clothes every day, or having few personal belongings, no identification, fearful of authority figures, always accompanied by another person and unable to move around on their own without someone controlling their movements, coached in what to say when asked questions, signs of mental abuse, such as being disoriented or confused. If you suspect someone, a child or an adult, may be a victim of human trafficking, do not intervene. Instead, record any pertinent information, such as license plates and a physical description of the victims and those with her or him. You can report your concerns to the National HT Hotline: 1-888-373-7888, or the Tennessee HT Hotline: 1-855-558-6484. You can volunteer for CCAHT. Contact them at 865-236-1046.
Human traffickers rely on the disbelief and unwillingness to act of ordinary citizens. By recognizing the reality of human trafficking and committing ourselves to action, we can make a difference in the lives of the tens of thousands of victims of sex and labor trafficking around our country. Now that we know, it is irresponsible to ignore this problem. Lives depend on it.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.