Story by Destiny Mizell / Contributing Writer
In recent years, there has been a rise in sex trafficking in Middle Tennessee.
Sex trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. A U.S. Department of State fact sheet from January defined sex trafficking as “the range of activities involved when a trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion to compel another person to engage in a commercial sex act or causes a child to engage in a commercial sex act.”
According to a law firm in Murfreesboro, Taylor Law Group, in 2017, “sex trafficking ranks behind drug trafficking as the second-fastest growing criminal industry.”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic reducing the number of reported tips on sex trafficking, last year, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Human Trafficking unit “processed 829 tips, with 535 of them being minors.”
The high numbers seen in reported tips are alarming because that barely scratches the surface of the number of sex trafficking victims in Middle Tennessee.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline stated that Tennessee is within the top 20 states for sex trafficking.
Middle Tennessee, specifically Nashville and surrounding cities, are considered to be sex trafficking hot spots. The TBI explains this unfortunate description by explaining, “Nashville is one of only six U.S. cities where 3 major interstates converge” and the “large hotel/motel industry.”
The convenience of the interstates aids traffickers in transporting victims, and the hotel industry provides secrecy for their interactions.
Unfortunately, sex trafficking can happen for a large number of reasons. For example, parents or partners will sell their child or significant other to traffickers, kidnapping (which mostly happens in runaway children), grooming, manipulation, coercion, threatening, etc.
All demographics are at risk for sex trafficking— It is common knowledge that women and children are mainly bought and sold in this industry, but men can also be targets.
Those who suffer from neglect/abuse or mental health issues are generally a large target; Traffickers find vulnerabilities and manipulate their way into the minds of others.
Dressember, an organization dedicated to stopping sex trafficking, stated that “1 in 5 homeless youth are estimated to be victims of sex trafficking”. Most homeless youths are LGBTQ+ individuals, which means people of the LGBTQ+ community are primarily affected. Children in foster care are also at high risk.
The organization also stated, “Sex trafficking is also a big problem among undocumented immigrants.” As a result, undocumented immigrants tend to live in fear of deportation, and sex traffickers use this to their advantage. “Traffickers may convince such victims that if they report to the police, the police will jail the victim for prostitution while the traffickers and buyers of sex go free.”
According to a TBI press release, in Murfreesboro less than a month ago, 12 men were booked into Rutherford County Jail on sex trafficking charges, specifically with minors.
These crimes are running rampant through our cities in Tennessee, where so many call home. This highlights how it is a civic duty to stay aware of sex trafficking signs, report tips, access resources on what to do if one falls victim to sex trafficking and spread awareness.
The U.S. Department of State stated that some indicators of this crime include: signs of physical abuse, if they seem fearful with forced dialogue, are unable to talk without their partner/sponsor/employer there, live with their employer or live with multiple people in a cramped space.
If such factors are spotted and suspected of being a trafficking situation, please never hesitate to contact the 24/7 National Human Trafficking Hotline. Call them toll-free at 1-888-373-7888, text them at 233733, where message and data rates may apply, or chat with them via the Human Trafficking hotline website.
Spreading awareness could be something as simple as sharing a post on social media regarding sex trafficking.
If one is interested in doing something more active, organize a petition or work with a local help center dedicated to stopping sex trafficking.
Every voice counts.
We are more than capable of using our voices to speak for the thousands who have been silenced—even in our very state.
To contact News Editor Toriana Williams, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more news, visit www.mtsusidelines.com, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or on Twitter at @Sidelines_News