“It is a problematic conversation to have, especially here in our nice, sanitized, hyper-religious bubble in Southeast Tennessee. If there is a Bible Belt, then we are the buckle,” Redman said.
“And we insist we are immune to things like [human sex trafficking]. I have had people tell me — people who went to school and should know better, ‘Well we just need to be sure nothing like that happens here.’”
According to Redman, Southeast Tennessee is slowly being encroached upon by human sex traffickers as the industry finds growth in America.
He cited a recent study on human sex trafficking completed by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in 2011. The report stated an estimated 300,000 youth are at risk of being sexually exploited through the commercial trafficking system in America on a yearly basis. Individuals who find themselves in the system spend an average of four to five years enslaved.
The report took national numbers from recent studies.
“The numbers in the United States are astounding and prove that it is not just a developing nation problem. The statistics that are widely quoted are also beginning to grow outdated; throughout the first decade of the 21st century, economies around the world have struggled, including the United States, thus increasing poverty,” stated the TBI report. “Therefore, these numbers might be growing yearly.”
Queries by TBI found 78 counties, representing 85 percent of the total counties in Tennessee, reported at least one case of human sex trafficking in the 24 months prior to the report. Bradley County reported cases of both adult and child human sex trafficking. Shelby, Davidson, Coffee and Knox counties reported more than 100 cases of sex trafficking of minors.
Redman equated human sex trafficking in Southeast Tennessee to both the meth lab and gang problems.
“Ten years ago in Hamilton County, the question was ‘What gang problem?’” Redman said. “If you read [the newspaper] you are going to have to read it like this [with your eyes squinted] to avoid the latest shootings and see most, if not all of them, are gang-related.”
He said runaways help fuel the human sex trafficking system. Adults and minors looking to escape their current situation often run to more urban areas. Atlanta has become both a hot spot for runaways and the commercial sex trade, according to Redman.
“The No. 1 destinations for U.S. sex tourists who are specifically looking to have sex with minors is the U.S.,” Redman said. “It is not Bangkok, not Mumbai, not Nepal — it is the U.S.”
Continued Redman, “So we have this exploding problem of demand. A problem which is trending younger and younger. Right now the FBI estimates the average age into prostitution is 13. Someone had to help that 13-year-old make this decision.”
He reiterated human sex trafficking is more than an urban issue.
Redman also said there is some good news on the horizon.
“The good news is that for all the things Tennessee is known for being first at in a bad way, we are one of the leading states addressing this issue,” Redman said.
Bradley County Interagency Council members were encouraged to spread the word, become involved in nonprofits like Second Life or start their own campaign.
In other news:
- The ABC’s of Safe Sleep informational pamphlets are available to the public at the Bradley County Health Department.
- Bradley Initiative for Church and Community’s community talent show tickets are currently on sale for $8.
- Life Bridge’s yard sale will take place this year on May 3.