The holiday season is upon us again, and we are likely to get caught up in the busyness of this time. We have decorating to do, Christmas parties to attend, gifts to wrap, and feasts to prepare for family and friends. For most of us, this is a season of joy and a time to prepare our resolutions as we welcome the New Year.
A Darkness We Cannot Ignore
For those caught in the grip of human trafficking, however, this season is not one that can be celebrated. In 2018, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received 118 calls from the state of Tennessee alone. Of the 65 reported cases, 46 were sex trafficking, 11 were labor trafficking and 4 involved both sex and labor trafficking. Each reported trafficking case represents an individual who will spend this holiday season trying to heal from the horrific crime that continues every day in Middle Tennessee. Still, so many instances of this injustice will remain in the dark and go unreported.
Over the last several years, the topic of human trafficking in Tennessee has gained traction and been discussed more. While this is a positive achievement, there are still many individuals who are not aware of the crime or the fact that it is happening within our own communities. End Slavery Tennessee defines the trafficking of adults as involuntary servitude, by means of force, fraud or coercion. For children, it is a bit more straightforward. Any minor involved in commercial sex is automatically considered a victim of human trafficking. Alarmingly, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reports that in the United States, a child is bought or sold for the purpose of sex every two minutes.
A Crime in Our Own Backyards
Tennessee is a hub for human trafficking for a number of reasons. The first is geographical. Atlanta – a city with one of the largest amounts of trafficking in the U.S. — is a short, five-hour drive from Music City. Additionally, Nashville is located in what can be described as a “trafficking triangle” – a triangle that includes both Atlanta and Birmingham. These three cities sit on major interstates, making it easy for traffickers to transport individuals to locations and buyers near and far. A final reason for Tennessee’s amount of human trafficking is the state’s tourism industry. Because of professional sports teams and popular music festivals, like CMA Fest and Bonnaroo, millions of people come through the state every year. It has been shown that nearly any event that draws a large amount of people equates to an increased opportunity for traffickers.
Traffickers Do Not Discriminate
An important fact to remember when examining domestic trafficking is: socioeconomic status does not determine who will be trafficked. This is a crime that happens among both the poor and the wealthy. In November 2017, a major trafficking sting took place in Brentwood, Tennessee, one of the wealthiest areas in the state. 22 men were indicted for attempting to solicit sex from a minor. These men had varying occupations — from a computer programmer to a chef. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Murfreesboro Road, right outside of downtown Nashville, is known for its high rates of crime and poverty. Home to the Drake Motel – which famously uses the slogan “Home of the Stars” – it has recently become a haven for illicit drugs and sex, including trafficking.
A Holiday Reminder
This year, as you gather with your loved ones to exchange presents and memories, you can give the gift of knowledge and start to spread awareness about modern-day slavery. Human trafficking is not a new phenomenon. It can be traced back to ancient times, when legal slavery was a common practice in most cultures. The difference now is that laws have been established to advocate for and protect the value of a human life. Thanks a variety of sectors, there is now a strong push back against the trafficking of humans in Tennessee, in the United States and abroad. Tennessee is one of the states in the nation known for helping people escape slavery, but the fight has not been won. By educating yourself on the present reality of this crime, you can bring awareness to others about the evil taking place around us.
In the last few moments of the holiday season, Free for Life asks you to reflect on the lyrics to the popular Christmas hymn “O Holy Night” and consider the line, “for the slave is our brother.” Though you may never meet these survivors face-to-face, we each have a duty to care for each other’s humanity and to protect and defend those who cannot do so themselves.