Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis and Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks have declared next week — July 29 to Aug. 3 — to be “Human Trafficking Awareness Week.”
The mayors signed a proclamation to that effect this week and were joined by representatives of local organizations which are working to raise awareness of human trafficking in this area.
“It’s an important subject that we’re trying to make more awareness of,” Davis said, noting human trafficking does exist in Bradley County.
“There’s no doubt that we have — not just in Cleveland and Bradley County but in the Southeast — a problem with human trafficking, especially along the I-75 corridor,” Brooks added.
According to the proclamation, human trafficking is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act or labor services through use of force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such acts has not attained 18 years of age.”
It notes the United States is “a major destination for international trafficking victims," and an estimated 14,000 to 18,000 people are trafficked each year in the U.S. It is also said to be a $32 billion per year global industry, second in scope only to drug trafficking.
“In Tennessee, the number of sex trafficking tips involving a minor has increased by almost 200% from 2016 to 2018, and since 2016, there have been 150 human sex trafficking investigations opened,” the proclamation reads.
It also observes that human trafficking affects people of all ages, genders, races and backgrounds. According to the proclamation, the average age of entry into human trafficking is just 13 years old.
It also notes the Tennessee Department of Health recognized human trafficking as a “public health concern” in January, because it increases the number of unplanned pregnancies, increases the risk for sexually-transmitted infections and increases “involvement in unhealthy relationships.”
Next week, the Tennessee Department of Health’s Reproductive and Women’s Health Team is partnering with organizations across the state to raise awareness of human trafficking through the Red Sand Project.
The Red Sand Project is a national initiative which encourages awareness of human trafficking through public art displays. Red sand is poured into sidewalk cracks or other designated areas to illustrate how human trafficking victims “fall through the cracks every day.”
A local Red Sand Project event is set to take place on Wednesday, July 31, at noon at the Bradley County Courthouse plaza to further draw awareness to the issue of human trafficking.
This event will feature remarks from Brooks and Davis, along with representives of local organizations sharing information on human trafficking and the purpose of the Red Sand Project. Those gathered will then pour red sand, made from environmentally-friendly ingredients, to fill in sidewalk cracks.
Amy Davenport, health educator with the Bradley County Health Department, said she is grateful for the chance to bring light to this issue and partner with other local organizations working to raise awareness.
Tempest Melvin, group/crisis counseling specialist at the Family Resource Agency’s Family Violence Program, said the Cleveland organization has helped local domestic violence victims caught in the “dual crisis” of also being victims of human trafficking.
“Some people might not even realize they are being trafficked, because of who they are with,” Melvin said. “They might call [their traffickers] their boyfriends or their husbands, but often they are just using them for money or drugs or whatever.”
Sarah McKinnis, co-founder and president of Willowbend Farms, a Cleveland organization which helps human trafficking survivors, often tells the story of a time when she was sitting in a local fast-food restaurant and witnessed young women being trafficked. That inspired her to do something to help.
“It’s really the community and partnerships like this that help us,” McKinnis said “We can’t do this on our own; we have to have a collaborative environment.”
They noted anyone who has been a victim of human trafficking or knows someone who has been trafficked can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text message 233733 to be connected to resources. Anyone facing a dangerous emergency situation is encouraged to call 911.
“Some people might not even realize they are being trafficked, because of who they are with. They might call [their traffickers] their boyfriends or their husbands, but often they are just using them for money or drugs or whatever.” — Tempest Melvin
“It’s really the community and partnerships like this that help us. We can’t do this on our own; we have to have a collaborative environment.” — Sarah McKinnis
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